Access Denied: Border Control Etiquette Part 1
The following is part one of a three-part global mobility series on border control navigation for business travellers.
By Stuart Buglass, VP Consulting
We’ve observed a growing number of enterprises leaning on business travellers as a low-cost alternative to traditional expat postings. At the same time, hungry professionals have become more eager to travel for both career and personal reasons. As a result, we’re seeing more business travellers than ever undertake duties that look a lot like expat assignments, spending long periods in a country and performing activities that government officials might argue fall outside the limits of their business traveller status.
In possibly performing so-called “real” work activities, this new breed of business traveller is becoming a popular target for both the immigration and tax authorities. Business travellers are non-voting, highly paid, relatively easy to track and come attached to big, deep-pocketed employers. In other words, the authorities can hardly resist themselves.
Having an employee refused entry or removed can prove disastrous for a business. It can lead to lost contracts, create bad publicity and be prejudicial to any future plans to establish a local entity.
To help ensure the smooth functioning of your globally mobile employees, we’ve compiled detailed tips to ensure your business travellers cross borders seamlessly. You can find our first two detailed below. The rest will come in parts two and three of this series, so look out for those posts in coming weeks.
Tip 1: Understand the permitted activities of a business traveller
Most business travellers fail to appreciate that the range of permitted activities is limited to those prescribed by the immigration authorities. While there are some regional differences, you can view the following list of permitted activities as representative of most countries:
- Attend meetings or conferences
- Arrange deals, negotiate or sign trade agreements, contracts etc.
- Attend trade shows
- Conduct site visits
- Attend a conference
- Attend a training event
- Undertake a fact-finding mission
- Assist with the installation, repair, or dismantling of specialized equipment
For the most part, project work, the supply of services and technical support fall outside the scope of prescribed activities and, as pure work activities, would require a work permit.
The line can be fine, though, so seek out expert advice whenever you start veering close to it.
For example, the UK authorities make a distinction between a representative entering the UK to be briefed on a customer’s requirements, and a representative who intends to provide a detailed assessment of a potential customer’s needs. The first example would be permitted as a business visitor activity whereas the second example is considered ‘consulting’ and therefore subject to the requirements of a work permit.
Likewise, attendees to trade shows are generally permitted to enter as business visitors but only to promote their products, rather than sell them direct to members of the public.
Tip 2: Keep to the script
When faced with questions at passport control ensure that what you say is consistent with the permitted activities of a business traveller.
The first point to remember is that you are not generally permitted to provide services — advisory, technical, consulting, or otherwise. Keep in mind also that meetings should be of the discussion variety and should not provide instructional or advisory value.
And avoid mentioning anything that suggests you have longer-term intentions, such as viewing residential property, checking out neighbourhoods or that you are covering for the absence of a local employee. Even the word “project” can set off buzzers in a zealous border official’s mind!
So know how you plan to describe your in-country activities before you step up to the counter, and remember that a sloppy description could create a very costly misunderstanding — we’ve certainly seen it happen before.
For more advice on complying with business traveller restrictions and navigating the high-stakes trip through border control, read part two of this post.