International business travelers have again been cited as the biggest cause of immigration compliance risk for organisations, according to a recent article by Davidson Morris, specialists in business immigration.
While business travelers will typically comprise the biggest proportion of an organisation's globally mobile workforce, in practice they fall beneath the radar of the formal global mobility programme structure, so their movements are usually not formally tracked or measured for compliance purposes.
As business trips typically tend to last under 60 days, and can be frequent, they don’t trigger organisations’ standard global mobility protocols in the same way as, for example, a short term assignment. The perception of business trips among employees is also a factor; that it’s just a ‘quick trip’, they’ve been there lots of times before without problems, so a visa or travel permit isn’t required.
This approach is of course far from reality, and ignoring the potential compliance issues involved for the organisation. The only way to ensure compliance with immigration rules (and other areas such as tax), is for employers to be made fully aware by employees of all business-related travel, in advance of the trip taking place.
The penalties of non-compliance with local immigration requirements vary greatly, from personnel being refused entry into a country by border control (who won’t care less how senior the individual is), to civil and even criminal penalties for employers.
So while in theory, short-term business travel should provide a lower cost and more flexible alternative to formal overseas assignments and transfers, the reality is that when issues of non-compliance arise, organisations will be faced with financial, operational and reputational consequences.
Ignorance isn’t an acceptable defence, for either the individual traveler(s) or their employer. Companies have to think about their reputation, and the impact a breach or prosecution can have, for example, on their ability to conduct business in certain countries.
Organisations can only realistically achieve immigration compliance for business travel by taking a systematic, integrated approach internally, combining expertise from multiple disciplines including global mobility, HR, legal, compliance, travel and tax.