Far from clarifying processes, the Brexit deal has brought with it many uncertainties which look set to affect business travellers when travelling to and from the UK, regardless of which passport they hold.
These uncertainties, particularly given the current Covid climate, are not likely to be resolved anytime soon. Most business travel is currently on hold due to the pandemic, but when it returns, organisations face a slew of new measures to navigate. Indeed, while Covid has brought short term uncertainty, the fallout from Brexit has not only brought additional ambiguity but also looks likely to bring long term uncertainty and significantly impact business travel.
The days of seamless travel are over
Since 1 January 2021 UK citizens now need a minimum of six months validity on a passport that is less than 10 years old to travel within the EU. After 1 October 2021 travellers to the UK will only be allowed to enter if they have a passport; national identity cards will no longer be valid.
Altogether these alterations will drive an enforced change in the approach to travel. UK travellers in particular will no longer be always able to simply and quickly book a flight or train ticket same day and go.
Businesses will need to factor in considerable extra planning time to allow them to identify and secure the additional documentation required for travel to the UK – and for UK business travellers to travel to the EU. Business will need to adopt a new way of thinking, similar to the approach already taken by businesses in America and Asia, by addressing in advance what type of activities the individual will be undertaking to determine whether a work visa required.
The UK Government has specified that there are additional actions for business travel to the EU with business activities such as travelling for meetings and conferences or providing services. However, a visitor's planned activities may not fall neatly within the terms of the "permitted activities" and it can be difficult to determine what is and is not allowed.
For example, the type of work that qualifies as a “business visit” without the need for a visa has been broadened to include market research; while the Temporary Worker – International Agreement Worker Visa, which covers work in the UK covered by international law or treaty, has been expanded to include contractors and independent professionals. These regulations may well evolve again.
The UK Government has confirmed that a visa or work permit will be required for travel to the EU that’s longer than 90 days in a 180-day period, and the clear consequence for travel managers is that they will now need to track how many days their business travellers with UK passports spend in continental Europe.
The Brexit agreement includes additional unilateral restrictions on UK business visitors imposed by individual EU states, but there are also likely to be complex interpretations of this on a country-by- country basis, with little clarification at this present time of what will and won't be allowed in practice.
Potential economic impact on business travel volumes and costs
With regulations differing from one EU country to another, businesses will need to allow much more time to plan in order to navigate this inconsistency, with time and resources devoted to identifying the regulations that apply to their needs and the relevant documentation required. In the current climate of uncertainty, it’s highly likely that multiple information sources will have to be consulted in advance in order to determine the information they need for each trip.
This may, in turn, lead them to question the requirement for business travel, or postpone trips until regulations are clearer. The current hold on business travel has led many organisations to scrutinise their business travels objectives and may results in a decrease in volume – at least until the process is clarified.
Business may also think twice before sending a UK passport holder on a trip to the EU. Projects may well be reassigned to EU passport holders and job descriptions will change in accordance with this.
Shift in business traveller demographic
At Riskline we've seen an increased demand for risk data on all aspects of travel and Covid, pointing to a heightened awareness of duty of care among organisations. There is increased concern for older travellers who might be at greater health risk while travelling. As a consequence, there will be a demographic shift towards more younger staff travelling – the next, emerging generation of business travellers.
This next generation of business traveller bring with them a different set of needs and expectations. Arguably more technology and information led, they will expect to be able to primarily buy insurance products and access business travel information via apps. The insurance sector will quickly need to adapt to ensure that its technology matches the expectations of this younger generation, making their products user friendly to this group. Another likely outcome is the rise of all in one travel booking and insurance offerings – TMCs will partner with insurance sellers to offer the full package (travel + insurance) in one place.
What are the next steps businesses can take?
- Access reliable and up to date information sources is crucial. This will ensure travel managers can ensure busines travel practices are in line with current guidelines. We expect these guidelines to continue to evolve over the long term and would advise regularly checking the latest guidance before each period of travel.
- Businesses should appoint internal business travel and immigration “champions” who can raise awareness of the new immigration rules and visa and insurance requirements among key team members.
- Organisation now need to drastically alter their travel planning times and should create internal systems to ensure that those who travel on business plan their journey much further in advance to have time to acquire all the documentation that is now required.
We may have all breathed a sigh of relief when the Brexit deal was finally completed but, although the deal may be done, business travel is far from immune to the impacts of a post-Brexit world.