Today’s short-term mobility reforms: Smoother access to global talent

31 January 2024

The changes to UK business visitor rules set out by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement come into effect today. They provide greater flexibility for UK-based businesses to bring in overseas talent for short-term projects. We have been long-term advocates for greater flexibility within the immigration rules to allow UK-based businesses to bring in overseas talent on a short-term basis (up to six months) to assist with productive work, so we very much welcome these reforms.

The ability to mobilise global talent is a critical driver for our industry, enabling businesses to tap into essential skills and spur the innovation necessary to reinforce the UK’s status as a leading global financial centre. Our research, ‘How to strengthen the UK’s short-term mobility system’, found that previous short-term business mobility rules were constricting. They limited the ability of organisations to utilise their international workforce effectively, impacting growth, export opportunities, and the UK’s attractiveness as a hub for international investment.

What’s new in the rule changes?

Under the Standard Visitor route, ‘non-visa nationals’ (including the EU and the US) can visit the UK visa-free for up to 6 months, and while here they may do specified business activities, such as attending meetings and trade fairs, and carrying out site visits. However, these rules previously limited the ability for visitors to conduct productive work, such as engaging directly with clients. The alternative of applying for a short-term business visa, imposed significant administrative and financial costs on business.

Today’s rule changes now permit:

  • Direct client engagement by visitors within an intra-corporate context (subject to the activity being incidental to their employment abroad and part of a wider project by the UK branch of their overseas employer);
  • Remote working, provided this is not the visit’s primary purpose;
  • An expanded range of unpaid work activities that legal professionals are allowed to conduct in the UK.

These changes provide greater flexibility and are set to enhance agility for firms with a multinational workforce, simplifying and streamlining processes and reducing costs. The short-term business mobility route is not an alternative to hiring people in the UK. Short-term business workers do not replace local talent or affect the overall level of UK immigration.

However, these liberalised rules come with a caveat. The lifted restriction on direct client engagement is conditional: it must be “incidental” to the visitor’s employment abroad and not amount to offshoring a project or service. With businesses often cautious about compliance with legal obligations, it is important that government provides clear guidance, including practical examples, on how the new rules will be interpreted and enforced. 

A broader agenda on business mobility

Looking forward, broader reforms to modernise the UK’s mobility regime are achievable. TheCityUK, in partnership with the City of London Corporation and EY, has developed a comprehensive suite of policies to ensure UK mobility policy contributes to economic competitiveness and wider policy goals, such as diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI).  

Key proposals from our joint report Global talent mobility: Ensuring UK competitiveness include: 

  • Allowing time spent under the Graduate Route to qualify as continuous residence to give employers more agility around Skilled Worker costs and retain international talent;
  • Continuing to prioritise the expansion of reciprocal Youth Mobility Schemes;
  • Allowing sponsored Skilled Workers to work part-time by mutual agreement with their Sponsor (even if it reduces their salary below the absolute threshold) to support employer DEI commitments;
  • A range of measures to improve processes, easing administrative burden for businesses.

Today’s measures mark a significant step in maintaining the UK’s competitive edge. Ongoing collaboration between the government and industry is vital to ensure effective implementation of these rules, enabling businesses to access the talent they need to create even more globally attractive products and services.


Stephen Booth photo
Stephen Booth International Strategy Manager

Stephen joined TheCityUK in 2023 and manages the implementation of the International Strategy. He works with colleagues on cross-cutting trade and investment issues, and supports the work of the International Trade & Investment Group (ITIG) and the Liberalisation of Trade in Services (LOTIS) Expert Advisory Group. He previously worked in Westminster think tanks, as Co-Director of Open Europe in the run up to and aftermath of the EU referendum, and latterly at Policy Exchange.