British businesses have long relied on workers from the European Union to come in for short or medium-term projects. Before Brexit, this was frictionless from an immigration perspective. People arrived, people worked, people left and businesses were happy.
EU free movement ended (for the UK) on 31 December 2020, but the impact has been largely masked by the ongoing pandemic. With borders and workplaces now opening back up, businesses are being confronted with post-free movement realities.
The first instinct is to turn to the Points Based Immigration System for sponsoring workers. But while sponsorship is fine for businesses that wish to employ foreign staff long term, it is expensive and unwieldy in situations where overseas workers are needed for a matter of weeks or months rather than years.
For some businesses, rather than investing in a sponsor licence, the solution may in fact lie in the UK’s visit visa rules. This will be somewhat surprising, given that the first and second rules of Visit Club are “you do not work on a visit visa”. That starting point is, however, qualified by the permitted activities for visitors, some of which are work-related.
Buried in the permitted activities is a seldom-used rule called PA 7. It permits an employee of a foreign manufacturer or supplier of goods to work in the UK on a standard visit visa in order to fulfil a contract of purchase, supply or lease. But the way the rule was drafted up to now, it only helped if there was a two-party relationship. What if specialist labour for installation is supplied by a third party?
As of 6 October 2021, PA 7 has been amended. It now reads (amendments in red text):
An employee of an overseas company may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on machinery, equipment, computer software or hardware (or train UK based workers to provide these services) where there is a contract of purchase, supply or lease with a UK company or organisation and either:
(a) the overseas company is the manufacturer or supplier; or
(b) the overseas company is part of a contractual arrangement for after sales services agreed at the time of the sale or lease, including in a warranty or other service contract incidental to the sale or lease.
The addition of part (b) expressly opens up work on a visit visa to three-way contracts where one foreign company manufactures or supplies the goods or equipment, and a separate foreign company provides the specialist labour to install it.
To take advantage of this, the third party installer must specifically be written into the contract for after-sales service agreed at the time of sale.
As this is a new rule, the Home Office will likely issue guidance on its interpretation in due course. Taking the revised wording at face value, though, it is a simple change with a potentially big impact: foreign workers can undertake certain projects for UK companies without having to be sponsored or directly employed.