Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Working across borders as an expatriate

I am an American expatriate working under a valid work permit in the Netherlands.  So here’s a simple question: can I work as an employee of a company in the UK?

No: Dutch work permits are not transferable outside of the Netherlands.

Now, under the same circumstances, I have a contractual relationship with a UK-based company (also, of necessity, approved by my current employer).  Is this work allowed?

The answer turns out to be much trickier, and I needed to consult a UK immigration attorney to sort it out.

So, today I wanted to share my experience to illustrate the potential complexity of this question.

DisclaimerI am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.  This is intended only as encouragement to engage legal advice before you begin any cross-border consulting as an expatriate.

As a business visitor, you must be careful not to enter into any professional or compensatory relationship where you might appear to be an employee of a UK company.  Additionally,

  • You must be based abroad, with no intention of transferring your base to the UK even temporarily and you must have intention to leave the UK at the end of your visit.
  • You must have funds to support yourself whilst in the UK and to pay for your outward journey from the UK
  • You will not receive any salary from a UK source, although reasonable expenses to cover the cost of travel and subsistence can be paid from a UK company.
  • You must not remain in the UK for a period longer than 6 months continuously, nor more than 6 months total in any 12-month period
  • You must not be involved in selling goods or services directly to members of the public.

As a business visitor, you are allowed to perform a limited range of activities subject to certain conditions.  You must be careful not to create "product" for delivery in the UK while you are physically in the UK.  This may include preparing plans, analyses, presentations, or reports, not just physical product.  Activities which are specifically permitted include,

  • Attending meetings or conferences
  • Arranging deals or negotiating or signing contracts
  • Undertaking fact finding missions
  • Conducting site visits
  • Speaking at conferences provided that the conference is organized on a not-for-profit basis and is a 'one-off'
  • Attending board meetings in the UK -- a company director is an "office holder' of the company of which he is a director, and may receive a fee and expenses for attending a board meeting.
The consequences of violating the rules can be severe; the client company can be hit for hiring you as an illegal alien, and you can be fined for working without a permit and barred from entering the UK.

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