The UK's decision in November 2016 to refuse a visa for
Paris Saint-Germain footballer Serge Aurier, denying him from
playing in a crucial Champions League match against Arsenal in
London, is a timely reminder to employers and international
travellers about visa restrictions and the need for advance
Many countries, including the UK, have a rigid immigration
system with little or no discretion. The same rules apply to all
applicants regardless of their international profile or that of the
business they work for, their salary or status. Last September, Mr
Aurier, a regular for the Ivory Coast national team, was sentenced
by French authorities to two months in prison after he was found
guilty of an assault against a police officer. He appealed the
verdict, so has been free to play for PSG while he waits for the
appeal decision. Although he was initially granted a visa to travel
to London, the Home Office revoked it at the last minute due to his
The impact of a criminal record
There are set rules for all visitors to the UK, including
business travellers and tourists, relating to prior criminal
convictions. They apply to both "visa nationals" –
citizens of a number of designated countries including India, China
and other countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa who are
required to apply for a formal visit visa before travelling to the
UK – and to citizens of other countries like USA, Canada and
some Commonwealth countries who visit the UK on their passport
without needing a visa.
Anyone with a criminal conviction resulting in a sentence of
imprisonment of at least four years at any time in their life, a
jail sentence of between 12 months and four years during the
previous 10 years, or a jail sentence of up to 12 months during the
previous five years will be automatically refused entry. The use of
false representations or documents, or previous breaches of UK
immigration laws, will also lead to an automatic refusal.
As was the case for Mr Aurier, it is irrelevant whether the
applicant actually spent any time in jail – it is the
sentence that is important. That test will also apply even if the
conviction(s) has lapsed or has been wiped from the applicant's
In most cases, travellers will also be denied a visa or entry to
the UK for any criminal conviction – even a non-custodial
sentence – imposed during the 12 months before applying.
Convictions will appear on an applicant's criminal record, but
do not include fixed penalty notices like a speeding or parking
ticket outside of a court process and where the fine is paid on
Business visitors to the UK can also face challenge over their
proposed activities while in the UK. For example, visitors can
attend business meetings, negotiate or sign contracts, attend
conferences or interview new hires, but cannot perform any
productive work. In this context, "work" includes
providing services or selling products to UK clients or filling a
gap in the UK workforce. Border officials have discretion to
challenge anyone they feel might step over the line from visiting
to working, and often the amount of cumulative UK stay can lead to
an inference of work.
Advanced planning will reduce the risk of unexpected surprises
for businesses and frequent travellers.
Leave enough time before the trip to assess criminal record,
proposed UK activities, duration of UK stay and to apply for an
Arrange for the overseas employer and/or the inviting UK
business to provide supporting letters confirming the purpose and
dates of the trip, an itinerary for the trip and confirmation of
who will be picking up the cost of the trip. Those letters,
together with evidence of finances like recent payslips, evidence
of UK accommodation and a return ticket already booked, are helpful
items for the traveller to hold on their person in case of
Many frequent travellers to the UK from eligible countries have
signed up for the Registered Traveller service, which provides
fast-track entry through airport e-gates or UK/EU lines. The scheme
has just been expanded in November 2016 to cover citizens of 16
With global security concerns leading to greater visa
restrictions – for example, the EU has just proposed a new
US-style electronic pre-screening programme for non-EU visitors to
the Schengen area – early preparation and collaboration
between HR teams and employees is essential to get travellers where
they need to be.
This article was previously published in HR Review
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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