How to Avoid Problems at the Border when visiting the UK – A Guide for EU and Other non-visa nationals

 

With Brexit now in full swing, many EU nationals are now coming up against the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy for the first time. Individuals who have previously had no issues coming into the UK have been surprised to find themselves stopped at the border, interrogated, and then promptly detained for removal.

Free movement rights ended on 31/12/2021 at 11pm, meaning visitors from the EU now need to ensure they are compliant with the UK’s rigorous restrictions on permitted activities for visitors. Do not be fooled by the term ‘non-visa national’, just because you do not need a visa does not mean that border control will simply let you into the country to do whatever you want. If you do not hold settled or pre-settled status, you will need to seek entry as a visitor at the border. It is not permitted to enter the country for any other purpose without a visa.

If you are not sure whether you require a visa to visit the UK, the Home Office provides a handy guide here. EU citizens and other so-called non visa nationals do not need to apply for a visit visa in advance of travel (although may find it helpful to do so if they have adverse immigration history to avoid risking being turned away at the border), but they must normally apply for a visa if they would like to work, study or live in the UK.

 

Who is a Visitor?

Visitors normally enter the UK for a temporary period of time, normally less than 6 months although there are exceptions. There are a number of prohibited activities in Appendix V: Visitor which a visitor is not permitted to carry out unless expressly permitted under a separate appendix. These include working, studying, getting married and receiving medical treatment.

If the border officer suspects you are entering the UK to carry out any of these prohibited activities, they have the right to refuse you entry and enforce your return to your country of origin. It is important to be clear on what you are and are not permitted to do in the UK, and to be able to clearly explain at the border what your intentions are, so that there is no doubt about the type of activity you intend to carry out.

Most tourists will have no problems, as tourism and leisure are clearly permitted, but other activities are permitted as a visitor, and this is where things can get a little confusing. Work is a prohibited activity for instance, but what counts as work? Is attending a business meeting working?  Does attending a seminar count as studying? For those with slightly less straightforward purposes, the below list, which is a non-comprehensive summary of some of the more common permitted activities, taken from Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities may be helpful.

  • tourism and leisure
  • visiting friends and family
  • school exchanges and visits
  • volunteering for up to 30 days with a registered charity
  • attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews
  • negotiate and sign deals and contracts
  • site visits and inspections
  • intra-corporate activities
  • interpreting and translation work as an employee of an overseas enterprise
  • tour group work
  • journalism
  • scientific and academic research
  • preaching and pastoral work by religious workers

 

Clearly then there are some scenarios in which work and study related activities are permitted, and if you are unsure we highly recommend you seek expert advice before you travel. The exact nature of work which is permitted is very difficult to interpret as a layperson, and can often fall foul of subjective interpretation on the part of the border officer. If your particular activity falls into that murky ambiguous area between ‘worker’ and ‘visitor’, it may be worth applying for a visit visa regardless of the requirement, to avoid the risk of problems upon entry.

Related to employment there are also no express restrictions on visitors seeking employment or even attending job interviews, although they should under absolutely no circumstances start doing any actual work should they be successful. They will need to leave the UK and reapply under the Skilled Worker scheme in order to take up employment.

It is also not prohibited for visitors to work remotely while in the UK for their overseas employer (for example by responding to emails), however this should not be the primary purpose of the visit as it is not on the list of permitted activities which should form the primary basis for a visit to the UK. This means it would be ok to answer a few work emails while visiting a family member in the UK, but not to visit the UK for the sole purpose of working remotely from the UK.

 

How Do Border Officers Decide?

At the border, a border officer will assess the purpose of the proposed visit and make a decision as to whether it falls within permitted visitor activities or not. They will ask you questions about your reasons for visiting the UK, and it is important to answer honestly and in a way which makes it clear your visit falls within the permitted guidelines.

The decision will be made on the balance of probability and depend on whether the officer thinks it is more likely than not that you are a genuine visitor. This is a subjective decision against which there is no right of appeal, and there is therefore the potential for inconsistencies in decision making between border officers.

If the officer wants to talk to you, they will look at things like the main reason for your visit, your immigration history and any problems you have had, how many visits you have been making to the UK (are you trying to live here by visiting repeatedly), whether you have family in the UK, your ties to your home country, whether you booked a return flight, and how much money you have. These are issues it is helpful to have thought about and have an answer for in advance.

How Long Can I Stay?

As a non-visa national you can stay six months at a time from the date of entry. There is no formal ‘cooling off’ period before you can re-enter the UK, but attempts to live in the UK through repeated visits will arouse suspicion. A good rule of thumb is not to spend more than 180 days in any 12 month period in the UK.

 

If you are interested in a visit visa, or any other category of UK visa, we can help. Get in touch with one of our friendly experts today for a consultation on 01403 801 801 or email us at [email protected]

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