Business Travel: What you need to know

With the emergence of a global economy which we have witnessed over the past couple of decades, it has become vital for businesses to establish a presence on the world stage.  This means that large, multi-national companies must have the means to move employees around the world, often with little notice.  The same applies to any business, whatever its size, which is seeking to expand or which transacts in other countries, but in our experience business travel can be fraught with difficulties.  This blog aims to examine business relocation and in particular, how the immigration aspect can be made more straightforward.

Is Immigration at the Top of your List?

If you are a Human Resources professional arranging an international assignment, there are numerous different arrangements to be made.  Relocation companies can help take the stress out of many of these tasks, for example by sourcing flights and accommodation.  For longer term assignments these companies can ensure the individual’s personal effects will be moved securely to their destination and give guidance on schools, tax and medical insurance.

But while you begin to draw up a schedule for the anticipated move date, it is important to remember that without the correct visa, the assignment will finish as soon as the individual arrives at border control.  We have handled many cases where an assignee was given incorrect immigration advice, or applied for work authorisation independently but selected the wrong type of visa, or wrongly believed that they did not need a visa at all!  This results in important meetings being postponed or cancelled altogether, wasted costs and inconvenience to the individual assignee, and does not reflect well on the reputation of the employing company.  Additionally, as we mention in the global services pages of this site, breaching immigration laws in many countries can result in hefty fines, deportation or even imprisonment if caught working without proper authorisation.  We cannot stress enough, therefore, the importance of ensuring that immigration is at the top of any HR professional’s list when planning a relocation.

Business vs Work – Know the Difference!

A common mistake made when employees are posted abroad is to apply for a business visa when work authorisation should be sought, or to apply for a general visit visa rather than the business option.  The activities which are permitted on a business visa are universally much more restrictive than those allowed on a work permit or visa.  Commonly permitted business activities include attending business meetings seminars or conferences, sales calls, negotiations and some contractual work.  It is important to check closely what type of activities the destination country will allow for a business visitor, and to ensure that assignee’s role is kept within those parameters.

Equally, it is easy for individuals to conclude that because they will not be performing any ‘work’ as such, and will be participating solely in business meetings or discussions, they do not in fact require any authorisation other than a standard visit visa for the host county.  This too is incorrect, because these visas are intended for tourism purposes or for visiting relatives. 

The HR professional in charge should carefully study the scope of the assignee’s intended role overseas and establish whether they will only be carrying out permitted business activities, or whether a work visa should be considered. Dealing with complex foreign immigration laws and practices can be somewhat overwhelming, and if there is any uncertainty we would strongly advise seeking advice from an immigration consultant before selecting which visa application to make.  Taking guidance at this early stage will help to avoid any wasted time or frustrated applications later on.

Understand the (Re)Location

Another point to carefully consider before making any visa application may seem glaringly obvious, but we want to mention this as it can be easy to overlook when trying to arrange an assignment under tight timeframes.  It is important to be aware of your global environment and in particular, to have some knowledge of the countries you wish to post employees to.  Clearly, if your company already has an established presence in another country, this will not be an issue.  However, if you are sending an employee overseas to expand your client base, provide support to another business, or with a view to setting up a branch of your company in the future, you should do some research first.

We aim to keep up-to-date with the latest global immigration developments, because we understand how quickly the immigration systems in other countries can be changed.  This is often due to political upheaval, civil unrest or a rapid economic downturn.  Recently, we provided advice and support to Libyan and Iranian business visitors seeking entry clearance to the UK who were affected by the closure of the UK embassies in Libya and Iran (the Libyan embassy has subsequently re-opened).  Embassy closures in any country will cause delays to visa processing times (if indeed they can be submitted in the first place) which impacts negatively on business targets and of course the personal plans of the assignee.

Having a quick scan of the immigration news for the destination country you wish to move an assignee to will identify any causes for concern and means that the whole process is managed more efficiently and as expeditiously as possible.

Bon Voyage!

If the worst case scenario does happen and an employee is held up at the border, it does not necessarily mean that they are out of options.  Your immigration provider can sometimes liaise with immigration officials to overturn an entry refusal, and provide a letter in support of your assignee which can be faxed across to the relevant parties.  View our case studies if you’d like some examples of how to handle this type of situation. 

Hopefully, however, this post has flagged up some key areas to be aware of when organising an assignment, so that everything will be planned properly from the start and any business trips will run smoothly.

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