Business vs Work

This is the second of a series of six short articles by Sophy King of Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd, covering some of the key areas of basic global immigration management. A basic understanding of how immigration processes work is vital in order to manage international assignments and projects efficiently and effectively. Peregrine Immigration Management Ltd is a young company founded by Sophy King specifically to address this need. Peregrine provides global immigration consultancy, training and knowledge transfer and management services, including via its revolutionary immigration knowledge database, Immiguru.

The difference between a “business trip” and a “short term assignment” is a thorny old issue that looks like it will never go away. In today’s world, where so many of us can “work” as long as we have an internet connection and some type of wifi enabled device, the distinction between business meetings and work missions is genuinely hard to make. The simple truth is that immigration regulations are not and cannot be designed to keep up with the changing work patterns of today’s businesses, and it is rare to find government issued guidelines which are black and white on this issue.

That said, there are some definite “Nos” when it comes to managing short term assignments, and there have been some high profile cases where companies have been named and shamed, and even dragged through the courts for allowing work to be carried out on business visa status. Given that immigration compliance enforcement worldwide is certainly tending towards making companies and employers rather than individual employees responsible, it is worthwhile for business to take a look at their policies in this area.

The following short list covers some of the main points to be aware of:

  1. It’s all about the actual activities to be carried out – that’s what the immigration authorities are going to want to look at to determine what an assignee’s immigration status should be;
  2. Different rules apply in different countries – just because Mexico may allow some short term work to be carried out on business visitor status, doesn’t mean that Brazil, or anywhere else will do the same;
  3. Many countries don’t have clear written guidelines on what constitutes “work” and what constitutes “business”;
  4. Staying on home payroll does not = not working in the destination country. Remember. It’s all about the activities;
  5. Tax rules are not the same as immigration rules. Sending an assignee somewhere for less than 180 days so they aren’t resident for tax purposes doesn’t mean you’ve also avoided the immigration question. Many locations require immigration authorisation from day 1 of “assignment” start;
  6. Working from home doesn’t mean you’re not working. It does mean you’re less likely to get caught out in an audit of a business premises, but it doesn’t mean your assignee/home worker may not get asked some awkward questions at the airport;
  7. Getting away with it once doesn’t mean you’ll get away with it again – immigration enforcement audits really are stepping up in many countries in the world, with a strong focus on corporate compliance. Make sure you know the rules.
  8. Educate your staff. Make sure that your frequent business travellers know what they are and aren’t allowed to do on their business trips, so they don’t get out of compliance just by being willing to help their colleagues. Frequent business travellers should also understand exactly what each business trip involves so that they can be clear with immigration officers at the port of entry on what they’ll be doing in the host country.

One final point is that many immigration consultants, scared to advise otherwise and perhaps with one eye on their own bottom line, will typically advise “if in doubt, get a work permit”. Peregrine’s view is that it is worth looking at activities on a case by case basis to determine if and how assignments can be modified so that the trip really is just a business trip and not a working assignment. Many times, if the “working” part of the assignment can be carried out by local staff, or remotely from the employee’s home location, the need for a work permit can be avoided, saving the business time and money.

This short article has barely scraped the surface of the endlessly challenging subject – contact Peregrine to discuss in more detail if this matter affects you and your business.

Next month we look at working on client sites – what do you do if you need to send an employee on assignment but to a client site rather than your own offices?

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