British workers travelling to the EU will be unable to carry out even basic business tasks after a no-deal Brexit unless they navigate a complex web of work permits that could take weeks or even months to obtain.
According to the consultancy EY, British business travellers without the right authorisation could be turned away at EU borders and companies liable for fines if national immigration rules are strictly enforced.
“As of November 1, assuming a no-deal exit on October 31, businesses will have to navigate red lines across each of the EU27 . . . This is a sea change for UK businesses, used to the flexibility that has come with free movement,” said Seema Farazi, head of financial services immigration at EY.
Since taking office last month, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson has vowed Britain will leave the EU by its scheduled departure date of October 31, with or without a deal.
If the UK leaves without a deal British citizens will need to apply for work permits on a country-by-country basis if they do more than merely attend business meetings, networking events or conferences — despite a move by Brussels to grant visa-free travel for short trips to Europe.
“Right now an employer can send a UK employee out to visit Europe without giving it a second thought,” said Raj Najik, a senior manager at immigration law firm Fragomen. “If we have a no deal Brexit they will have to start questioning where they are going, what they are doing and whether they need a work permit,”
Last month the CBI business lobby group warned a no-deal Brexit would cause “immediate overnight disruption” for UK companies that relied on sending their staff to the EU for short-term work or for “fly-in-fly-out” services. Without a permanent solution, companies could ultimately relocate operations and jobs to the EU to avoid the disruption, the CBI predicted.
“While short-term disruption could potentially harm ongoing projects, in the longer term there is a real threat to the UK’s competitiveness, ” said Matthew Percival, head of employment at the CBI.
Some countries, such as Germany, have prepared wide-ranging waivers for UK workers on stays of up to three months. But others have much tighter restrictions on what activities can be carried out.
Luxembourg, for example, allows directors to visit for board meetings and for workers to negotiate and conclude contracts without obtaining a permit. Financial services groups could be blocked from sending UK employees to do trading or portfolio management, or other day-to-day work, however.
The EU does not provide comprehensive guidance on each country’s requirements, while the UK government directs inquiries on the type of visa needed to each country’s embassy.
“The basic rule is that if you are going to work you will need a work permit, but countries have different definitions of work. If you are heading out simply to meet people then you will be fine. If you are doing more than you may need a work permit and that isn’t going to be quick,” said Mr Najik.