The dip in corporate travel during the pandemic has meant doing business in the European Union post Brexit has not been under the spotlight as it would have been without Covid. With the traffic light system hopefully now a distant memory and the cost of testing coming down, travel within the region is now picking up again.
Make no mistake, there are now major obstacles for corporate travellers in the EU that were not present before 31 December 2020 when the transition period ended.
Many activities can still be conducted visa-free within the 90-day stay allowed, but some will require a business visa and others will need a work permit, the latter meaning what was once a simple trip across the Channel now becomes an immigration issue.
Going for a meeting or a dinner is easy enough, but attending a conference to deliver a speech or going on a training mission could mean you need a visa; while sending staff to fit, for example, machinery in a factory, could entail work permits.
Historically, TMCs have been able to give visa advice very easily; now things are not so simple and different requirements are emerging from each of the 27 member states.
A quick look at the EU’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the UK gives you an idea: Short-term visits to Austria and Cyprus for trade fairs and exhibitions require a work permit, including an economic needs test, for activities of more than seven days in a month or 30 in a calendar year.
Travel for research and design in Austria needs a work permit and economic needs test, except in scientific and statistical fields. Spain requires installers and maintainers to be employed for at least three months before application for entry and to possess “at least three years’ experience”.
The advice is to ask yourself if you are travelling on business or to work and then to seek professional help. Generally speaking, day-to-day meetings are permissible visa free, but more than this may require additional documentation.
Meon Valley Business Travel’s partner CIBT deals with these issues daily. Key account manager Nigel Cleur said: “What Brexit has done has forced the worlds of business travel, immigration and mobility together and those clear divides have now been completely blurred. You have a situation now where business travellers have to follow and conform to the regulations in place for immigration.”
He gives the example of sending stage crew to Denmark for a three-day live event. This now requires a work permit with residence and has led to frustration from clients who query the need for such a short period of time. Conversely, he points out an anomaly in Denmark – the Fitter Rule – where if you buy a piece of equipment and if installers need to fit it, they do not need a work permit.
CIBT cautions about the need to apply well in advance if permits are needed.
“Typically work permits are taking around two months to process. It can take longer. Pre-Covid we would hope it would take four to six weeks, but currently, the average turnaround is two months,” said Cleur, who added some in Italy were taking “up to 11 months”.
There is another pitfall for corporate travellers in that the 90 days’ stay permitted in any 180 days includes leisure trips, so any holiday taken in, for example, Spain, counts against the time spent on business there.
“Generally, the traveller is liable to ensure they don’t exceed this, but there is an element of liability on the employer,” said Cleur.
It’s a minefield and navigating it really does mean seeking professional advice. There will be those seasoned business travellers who will dress casually to convince border officials they are just on holiday, but it is likely arriving at immigration with bags of product samples minus documentation is riskier post-Brexit than many will want to gamble.
Meon Valley Travel, in partnership with CIBT Visas can provide advice for UK passport holders travelling on business in the EU/EAA. Please email the Travel Team or call +44 (0) 116 264 5279 to find out more.