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This is related to What proof of expertise do UK immigration accept for conference speakers? and What are the visa rules for US speakers, at UK conferences, who may be getting paid?.

Consider a purely commercial conference, run entirely to make money. A US company pays a steep fee as a 'sponsor'. In return, the company receives a speaking slot. The company instructs a US citizen and resident to travel to the UK for a weekend to speak at the conference.

Based on the answers to those two questions, it seems as if this person would need to apply for a visa in advance, or else risk being trebuchetted right back to the US. Am I missing something?

  • On the information you have given, the person needs a Tier 2 (General). And questions about these are for Expats expatriates.stackexchange.com this site deals with visitors. Close voting as off topic – Gayot Fow Aug 24 '16 at 1:18
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    I don't understand why there's anything expat about a US citizen travelling to the UK for three days to speak at a conference. Please elucidate. @GayotFow – bmargulies Aug 24 '16 at 1:38
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    If we make the distinction between travel and expats whether a work permit is required, rather than long vs. short term travel, which forum should one use to ask which forum to use? For @GayotFow, it may be glaringly obvious whether a work permit is needed for a given activity in the UK. For most people, for most countries, it isn't. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 24 '16 at 1:56
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    This seems to be entirely covered by the second answer to the "What are the visa rules...?" question, which includes the following quote from UK Government sources: "[a visitor may] give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser" (my emphasis). Since this is a for-profit event, a visa is required. – David Richerby Aug 24 '16 at 6:55
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    @DavidRicherby, this is right, but I think the OP is looking for a confirmation that a time span of a weekend has the same rule as a long-term economic migrant (which it does). – Gayot Fow Aug 24 '16 at 7:40
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OK, so we look at the visitor visa rules initially (these apply to US citizens entering either on a visitor visa, or the visa exemption). Under "permitted activities for all visitors, we find this section:

Business – general activities

5 A visitor may:

  • (a) attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews;
  • (b) give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser;
  • (c) negotiate and sign deals and contracts;
  • (d) attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling;
  • (e) carry out site visits and inspections;
  • (f) gather information for their employment overseas;
  • (g) be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.

So, it is understood that business visitors may come to the UK for all these activities (and a whole bunch more are permitted further down the list, provided they are within the same company, or a company that there is an existing business relationship with).

It is clearly understood that, as these visits are "on business" people will be receiving their normal salary for this. The person in question won't be deriving any personal profit from this, and in fact, neither is their employer, who has in fact paid for this privilege. This would seem to me to mean that there isn't any requirement to look at the additional rules for "permitted paid engagements".

However, I can imagine things being complicated somewhat if attending meetings and events was the only thing a person was employed to do. While obviously difficult to enforce, the general understanding for UK immigration is that business visitors will not continue to do their "normal" work while visiting, as that is not listed in the permitted activities section. This obviously gets more complicated if their "normal work" is attending events like this, as it gets harder to argue that permitted paid engagements are not relevant.

Of course, as with all immigration situations, there's a degree of interpretation on the part of the immigration officer that you have to deal with.

Furthermore, I am not an immigration expert, just someone with the rules in front of me (and having seen company reps at various conferences). Note that our resident ex-immigration lawyer appears to disagree with this assessment.

  • It amazes me how often a question can sit unanswered for hours and hours and then suddenly two longish answers appear more or less simultaneously. The timestamps make clear that it can't be a matter of one answer inspiring the other ... – Henning Makholm Aug 24 '16 at 11:45
  • @HenningMakholm I'd actually started writing an answer, hesitated, then gone away and forgotten about it. Then I clicked to see your answer, saw my part-complete one sat there, and decided to finish it and go with it. – CMaster Aug 24 '16 at 11:49
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According to the visitor rules:

Business – general activities

5 A visitor may:
(...)
(d) attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling;

This seems to describe the situation in the question pretty well. Being paid by one's US employer is critically different from being renumerated by the organizers of the "conference" (which, if it is organized for profit and businesses pay steep fees to have their representatives present there to speak to attendees, sounds like something that is well described by the term "trade fair").

The fact that the US employer made a business decision to pay money for the traveler to have an official pulpit to deliver his message from would seem to me to make it more "promotional work", not less. They wouldn't do that if they didn't think it would bring in business down the line.

And the fact that the traveling speaker is simply spreading the good word about what cool things they do at company XYZ rather than taking orders explicitly, seems to be required for 5(d) to apply at all ("provided the visitor is not directly selling").

In practical terms, the way the money flows in this example ought to exclude any argument that the traveler is performing a service to the local organizers by speaking -- he's more a customer than a provider to them.

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