Immigration rules on ‘foreign suppliers’ reversed

Changes to the UK Immigration Rules enforced this week making it easier for foreign businesses to fulfil their contractual obligations to their UK customers have been welcomed by a leading immigration lawyer.

Ben Xu from national law firm Irwin Mitchell said that an unexpected and surprising change to Immigration Rules late last year in preparation for Brexit had made it difficult and expensive for EU suppliers to visit the UK to complete necessary work for their UK customers.

Since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, businesses in EU countries have been able to send their employees to the UK to fulfil their contractual obligations or carry out after-sale services to their UK customers without the need of applying for a visa.

Although free movement rights ended on 31st December 2020, it was expected that EU workers would still be able to carry out this work.  This was because UK Immigration Rules permitted ‘foreign manufacturers and suppliers’ to perform certain after-sale services in the UK for their UK customers with a standard visitor visa (also known as business visitor visa).  Being ‘non-visa nationals’, EU citizens were expected to be able to take advantage of these provisions without needing to apply for a visa before arrival – even after Brexit.

The Immigration Rules however, relating to business visitor visas were changed last December, in preparation for Brexit and surprisingly they became stricter.  Instead of widening the scope, the wording ‘foreign suppliers’ was removed from the rules altogether, leaving only ‘foreign manufacturers’.  This left many foreign suppliers extremely concerned about their ability to continue providing after-sale services to their UK customer post-Brexit.

However, the Home Office published a new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, on 4th March 2021, which reinstated the original wording to include ‘foreign suppliers’.  This change has taken effect from 6th April 2021.

Ben Xu said: “The changes last year effectively excluded a whole class of sellers from benefiting from such provisions and forced them to explore alternative options which are far more costly and time consuming”.        “Some of our clients were greatly affected by these stringent rules and, as a result we voiced the policy inconsistency to the Home Office given the intention of the UK Government was to continue the trade relationship with our EU partners post-Brexit”.

“We are pleased that the policy has changed as the benefit will be seen by business in the EU as well as UK consumers and businesses”.