Global Business Travel Compliance: Are You Protected?

Last Updated on March 2, 2023


Business travel compliance in the immigration space is a tangled web of investigative bodies and administrative departments – with acronyms like ICE, USCIS, the DOL and the DOJ – enforcing various aspects of U.S. immigration law in the United States alone. At the global level, understanding compliance issues and their consequences expands the universe of potential pitfalls.

What are the costs of noncompliance?

The cost of failing to comply can be prohibitive. Consequences can include high monetary penalties (i.e. fines, potential criminal sanctions (i.e. jail), an inability to secure visas for company employees in a particular jurisdiction (i.e. your employee is no longer allowed in the country), disruption to business practices (i.e. your company is unable to obtain future business or work visas to a specific country) – and most of all, could result in unhappy employees.

Short-term business travel is often a gray area for employers.

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Short-term business travel compliance

More often than not, issues of noncompliance stem from simple misconceptions rather than purposeful wrongdoing. Short-term business travel is often a gray area for employers. The straightforward definition of this is an employee who travels outside their base location for business and who is not on a formal assignment or transfer. In our experience, many employers may assume that a work permit is not required due to the short-term nature of travel, which could result in accidental non-compliance if it turns out a different visa was required.

Some other common misunderstandings related to short-term business travel include:

  • U.S. citizens can work anywhere in the world with no strings attached
  • It’s OK to enter a country that has Visa Waiver agreement and work without authorization by leaving every 90 days and re-entering.
  • If an employee is working, but on a short trip, they only need a business visa.
  • Training does not constitute work.

What’s important to understand, particularly for the training issue, is that what constitutes business travel versus the type of travel requiring work authorization varies by country. However, there is a golden rule. Essentially, in almost every single jurisdiction, the activities performed, not the duration of the travel, will determine what is business and what is work. It is vital to understand country requirements before allowing your employees to travel.

What is short-term business travel?

How you identify short-term business travel in your own organization so you can try to retain business travel compliance is key. Some common characteristics of short-term business travel include:

  • Travel is six months or less, or intermittent
  • Compensation and travel expenses are delivered from the home employer
  • Employee is not on a formal assignment

It is important to understand internally what the characteristics are and explain these clearly to all stakeholders including hiring managers and everyone involved in the immigration and visa process to avoid errors or future issues.

Reduce the risks for short-term business travel

In the event of noncompliance, both the company and the employee may be subject to monetary fines, could be prohibited from entering the destination country, resulting in a lost opportunity or lost business, or could even face criminal charges.

In addition, companies may face penalties, fines and other legal action from a foreign government, potentially resulting in some long-term reputation damage. Certainly, you would not want your employee, or in this case, short-term business traveler, to do something that would negatively impact your company’s reputation and status in the industry.

To reduce these risks for short-term business travelers, you should take the following steps:

  • Communicate to all stakeholders in your company the potential for these risks, and protect against them by having a robust short-term business travel policy.
  • Require a compliance checklist in connection with short-term business travel.
  • Establish travel review policies.
  • Limit the activities of the business traveler while they are abroad to those that are acceptable under local law.
  • Get regular updates on changes in local laws which may impact your short-term business travelers.

If you’re still unclear on the rules and regulations of business travel compliance, watch our education webinar, Maintaining Immigration Compliance for Your Organization, today.