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The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Rights of Foreign National Employees

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

Looking Back on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Rights of Foreign National Employees 

On 1 Jan. 2021, the United Kingdom (UK) – European Union (EU) Trade and Cooperation Agreement provisionally went into effect, pending the approval and ratification of the European Parliament. Full implementation was made on 1 May 2021. This article provides a glimpse into specific aspects of the agreement that aim to protect and broaden the rights of foreign national workers employed in the UK or the EU.  

Why was the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement Established?   

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement was signed to establish conditions related to trade, services, movement and more between the United Kingdom and the remainder of the member states in the EU after the UK officially withdrew from the EU. At the conclusion of the Brexit transition period on 1 Jan. 2021, businesses, service providers and employees from EU member states and the UK were no longer able to benefit from the mutual recognition of passports and work authorization or the freedom of movement established under Directive 2004/38/EC. This meant that EU and UK nationals required residence and work authorization to live and work within the other’s borders.  

Under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, service providers in the UK and EU were granted access to one another's economic and labor markets. A significant consideration of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement revolves around the coordination of social security protections and the rights and freedoms of EU citizens and UK nationals working within their respective borders.   

Additionally, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement established several provisions for short-term business visitors, Intra-Company Transfers (ICT) and several other immigration categories in the UK and EU. The Agreement established the terms in which individuals could perform work activities within the border of the other entity and the duration for which these work activities could be conducted.  

What are the Rights of Business Visitors Under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement? 

Through the Agreement, short-term business visitors can remain in the territory of the UK or the EU for up to 90 days in any six-month period without requiring a work permit and under visa-free entrance, so long as they only perform permitted activities.  

Some of these activities include attending meetings and consultations, conducting market research and independent research, participating in training, trade fairs and exhibitions, and engaging in sales or negotiations of commercial transactions. For a complete list of permissible business activities, see paragraph 8 Annex 21 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.   

Under the Agreement, short-term business visitors are not permitted to perform repairs or maintenance on after-sales or perform sales-related activities. However, permitted activities vary by the rules established in each EU member state and have the potential to change.  

The Agreement also established the terms of visa-free travel between the two entities. If either the UK or an EU member state intends to implement visa requirements for short-term visitors, the Party must give a notice of at least three months.  

What are the Rights of Intra-Company Transfers Under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement? 

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement also established specific terms for highly skilled specialists, trainees and managers. Those in these positions can be temporarily transferred from one company to a representative office, subsidiary or other legal entity abroad that has links to the business established in the employee's home country. 

Under the conditions of the Agreement, highly skilled specialists and managers can be granted a work permit in the EU for a period of up to three years, while trainees can be granted a work permit for up to one year in the EU. In the UK, an ICT work permit for a highly skilled specialist or manager can be granted for a period of five years. Individuals employed on these work permits must meet certain educational and work experience requirements to qualify. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement also created streamlined administrative procedures for visa and work permit applications under Annex 23. 

What’s Next?   

The end of free movement between the UK and the EU placed new barriers on workers' ability to travel to and from these regions. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides some solutions for overcoming these challenges by broadening the activities that British nationals and EU citizens can perform with, and in some cases without, a work permit. 

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Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.

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