UK immigration update: Changes to Visitor Rules – Business Activities

At a glance:

  • Clarification that business visitors in the UK may work remotely for their overseas employment, provided this is not the primary purpose of the visit.
  • Employees of an overseas-based company with a UK branch may now carry out work directly with clients, provided the activity is incidental to their employment overseas and does not amount to the offshoring of a project or service.
  • Flight crew of a Civil Aviation Authority approved wet lease arrangement will now be permitted to come to the UK between the months of March and October within the provisions of the rules. This is currently only permitted as a concession.
  • The number of legal services an overseas lawyer can provide whilst in the UK are being expanded.
  • Individuals will now be able to receive payment from a UK source if they are invited to be a speaker at a conference, provided this is arranged before they travel to the UK and other requirements are met.

On 7 December 2023, the UK government published a new statement of changes to the Immigration Rules. Of relevance for most businesses, are the changes to the Visitor Rules for permitted business activities, which will implement the reforms referred to in its 2023 Autumn Statement. These amendments are set to take effect from 31 January 2024.

Working remotely

Visitors in the UK are permitted to carry out activities remotely for their employment overseas, provided this is not the main purpose of their visit. This allows short-term business travellers who have entered the UK for a permitted reason (ie attending meetings or conferences, carrying out site visits etc), to respond to emails, make calls and other related work activities, as long as immigration officials are satisfied that the visitor is not living in the UK through frequent or successive visits.

This change to the Visitor Rules will simply formalise the position currently reflected in government published policy guidance.

Visits will still only be expected to last a maximum period of 6 months for any one trip and the genuine intention of business trips will continue to be assessed in the same way.

Intra-corporate activities

The current Visitor Rules on intra-corporate activities prohibit employees of an overseas based company from carrying out work directly with clients of a UK-based company that is linked to the same corporate group.

This prohibition is set to be removed but it will only apply in very limited circumstances. An employee of an overseas based company will now be able to work directly with clients to advise, consult, trouble-shoot, provide training or share skills and knowledge, but only where this is incidental to their employment abroad and is not part of a project or service being delivered by the overseas employer directly to the UK client. The work must be needed by the UK branch for the delivery of a project or service that they are providing to the client.

Overseas employers and linked business in the UK who are hosting short term business travellers will still need to clearly identify the arrangements and ensure that any client-facing activities fall within these new requirements.

Legal professionals

Currently, the only activity an overseas lawyer can formally carry out in the UK as a business visitor is advising a UK-based client on specific international litigation and/or an international transaction.

Guidance does, however, exist which allows overseas legal professionals to carry out advocacy, dispute resolution work and take an active role in the preparation of hearings. The changes will formalise these activities by including them within the Visitor Rules. The changes will also now allow overseas lawyers or legal professionals to appear in arbitrations, acting as an arbitrator or mediator; appear in court where the relevant jurisdiction allows this; teaching and conferences.

Legal professionals or overseas lawyers will, however, need to be careful to assess whether the activity they will be carrying out falls within a permit paid engagement in respect of allowing them to receive payment from a UK source and limiting their ability to carry out the activity to one month or falls outside this.

Permitted Paid Engagements

Permitted Paid Engagements will now fall within the scope of the Standard Visitor route as opposed to its own separate category. Although this is not a substantial change, speakers at conferences who have been invited to give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches will now be added to the list and allowed to receive payment from a UK source.

All visitors entering the UK to carry out an activity which falls within a permitted paid engagement will still need to have arranged their activity before travelling to the UK, declare this within their application or entry to the UK and carry out the activity within the first 30 days of arriving in the UK as a Visitor.


The above changes will no doubt be welcomed by businesses who regularly need to send or host overseas employees in the UK, providing a degree of increased flexibility and certainty to the current Visitor Rules. Businesses will be able to allow those visitors to carry out more work based activities and potentially remain for a slightly extended period in the UK given that remote work is now expressly permitted.

It does not, however, remove the need to continue to carefully assess the scope and purpose of business trips before entering the UK, to ensure the activities do indeed fall within the permitted list of visitor activities. A breach of the Immigration Rules can result in serious sanctions for individuals and businesses, including mandatory entry bans and the ability of businesses in the UK to sponsor migrant workers.

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