If you’ve followed our previous articles about service exports, or have provided service exports, you know that they can be delivered in several ways: in person, or remotely via the Internet or the cloud, by telephone, or over email.
In this article, we’ll focus on the former: services provided in person by representatives traveling to foreign locations.
Locally engaged staff who represent your company in foreign countries to deliver services face quite a few challenges. Here are some of the immigration issues you’ll need to consider.
When professionals travel to provide services on site in a foreign country, immigration is an important consideration. Most people are aware that a passport is needed for foreign travel to most countries – even between the U.S. and Canada.
That wasn’t always the case, and recently tripped up an American colleague who still thought he could travel with a voter’s registration card!
Most people who have traveled for business meetings or vacation also know that some countries require a visa – a special authorization to visit a particular country for a limited time period and for a limited purpose.
Some visas are obtainable by simply filling out a form and paying a fee upon entry to the country, but many more involve bringing or sending your passport to the destination country’s consulate.
You can generally attend sales meetings or conferences, take plant tours, and visit customers with the same kind of visa you would obtain if you were on vacation for a few days. In fact, this is what is referred to as a “tourist visa.”
New country, new work visa rules
What fewer people realize is that when travel involves doing valuable work, such as providing services of any kind, this typically requires a special work visa.
For example, participating in a trade show in the United States typically requires a special visa. Working on an installation or construction project requires a special visa in most countries. Even negotiating a contract may require a work visa.
This type of visa generally requires additional paperwork, and will often take longer to process – sometimes MUCH longer –than a tourist visa.
Whether or not a work visa is required, the kinds of work that can be performed, and for how long, varies widely among countries.
The analysis gets even more complicated depending on the immigration status of the professional who is traveling, and even on which passport they will be using for work-related travel.
Ironically, this complexity can sometimes lead to simpler solutions.
For example, a UK national working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, or a dual UK-Canadian citizen presenting his/her UK passport, may be able to travel to a project in Europe without needing a work visa at all.
3 key rules to operate under
Check the work visa rules very, very carefully and consult with the destination’s consular officials. If the advice is unclear, or your traveler already has a complicated immigration status, take advice from a good immigration lawyer.
Make sure you clearly allocate enough time prior to a project launch to obtain the appropriate work visa in order to avoid unhappy clients or project delays. If necessary, opt to send a professional with a less-complicated immigration status.
Never, ever ask your employees to travel on a simple tourist visa if they will be providing services in a foreign country, even if your project is an emergency or the client wants the work done right away.
Doing so puts your employees at enormous personal risk.
If immigration officials find out that they are there to perform services without a work visa, they will likely be sent back home on the next plane.
This outcome is not worth the risk, since it causes an embarrassment for everyone, broken customer promises, and a wasted international plane ticket.
Worse, the employee could be detained, fined, and in some countries, receive an “undesirable” stamp on their passport, making it difficult for them to travel internationally in the future.
Consider putting together a database of your professionals who may travel, including their nationality, immigration status, and any dual citizenship. This will make it easier to staff projects based on your employees’ abilities to travel for work, rather than discovering extra hurdles after they are assigned to a project.
As service exports grow steadily, the number of professionals traveling to provide services in foreign countries will continue to expand, as will the number of destinations.
Companies sponsoring these travelers will need to have strong processes in place to ensure their employees travel safely, and are able to get the job done for their clients.