Think twice about the consequences of travelling as a business visitor to France when on a short-term assignment!
If you are planning to send an employee on a business trip to France for a short-term assignment a quick assessment of the activities is required in order to obtain the correct visa before the departure to France. Make sure that the travel is either as a business visitor or for a short-term assignment for work.
Statistics published by the European Commission reveal that Schengen consulates across the globe received over 16 million applications for short-stay visas to the Schengen member states in 2018, and to no one’s surprise the applications for France stood at 4,010,604. One-fourth of the total applications.
What do companies generally do when they have an upcoming business trip to France?
Quite simple! They book an appointment with the French Consulate or with one of the visa centres: VFS or TLS, submit the documents, and thanks to the very simplified visa process the visa is issued in 3-4 working days and the travel takes place.
But, is this really that simple? Is the above scenario taking care of all the compliance requirements? Certainly NOT!!! Like most of the other countries, immigration procedures in France depend on the type and form of activity to be conducted during your trip.
Understanding the Schengen short–term visa as a business visa – The official France visas website says that a business visa can be used to attend or participate in trade fairs, seminars or conferences related to your professional activity. ONLY! The type ‘C’ Schengen visa does not allow the holder to perform activities requiring a work permit/visa or any activity that is subject to specific declaration or authorization. For work activities, an appropriate visa must be applied for.
Let us see what is allowed and what is not on a Schengen business visa –
Authorized activities may be –
- Activities which are non-productive and non-billable in nature;
- Attending business meetings, discussions;
- Taking part in business and contract negotiations;
- Attending seminars and conferences.
Business visitor status is not appropriate for visits aimed at –
- Any billable activity that is part of a project or contract;
- Providing technical assistance;
- Knowledge transfer;
- Production of goods;
- Repairing machinery, computer software or equipment;
- Installation & testing;
- Performing any technical duty at the host company or a client site.
You all may have heard about the increase in the labour inspections in France over the last few years. The labour offices (DIRECTTE), French social security administration (URSSAF) and other state departments carry out unannounced inspections to ensure compliance for French labour law is in place and especially prohibiting illegal work and unemployment of unauthorized foreign assignee.
Penalties for Misuse of Business Visa –
There are severe penalties when companies are found to be employing foreign nationals, without permission to work, no social security coverage (when required), level of salary that is not in line with the French requirements etc. Illegal presence in France and performing activities that are not included in the list of permissible business visa activities may be classed as illegal work and is technically a criminal offence. The penalties covered under Criminal code are as follows –
- assignee may be barred from future travel to France, fined or imprisonment for up to five years or both
- fine up to 15,000 Euros per illegally employed worker to the management and 75,000 Euros to the company
- the company may be barred from carrying out any professional or social activities either permanently or for five years
- placement of the company activities under judicial surveillance
- closing down of company’s branches used to commit the offence
Therefore, it is extremely important for the human resources personnel in the companies to understand the activities covered by the business visa and its limitations. If not, they may soon find themselves paying huge penalties and at risk of being charged as an organized group with the criminal offence of arranging illegal travel for financial gain.
The solution to overcome the limitations of the Business visa – Expert Visa category
The clear rule is that any gainful productive activity is not allowed for business visitors. For all work-related services, the relevant pre-authorized work visa/permit should be obtained before travel and the respective ministerial declarations should be filed (including the visa waivered nationals).
However, there has been a work permit exemption introduced which allows the assignee to work and stay in France for less than three months. This option is called the Expert visa category. This is designed for posting workers (transferring employees on detachment/secondment) to France who are experts in IT, Engineering, Management, Banking and Finance, Insurance and architecture. However, there is no clear definition of who is an expert, criteria that are recommended by Expat Partners is that the assignee
- must have a degree and a minimum of 5 years’ professional experience in the one of the above–mentioned fields,
- is paid prior to coming to France at the level of an expert,
- is recognized as an “expert” coming to provide services as an expert
- is paid during the assignment in France at the level expected for an expert
- the employer must be able to justify that the assignee is required as an “expert”
To benefit from this work permit exemption the assignees who do not qualify for a visa waiver need to apply for a short–stay visa at the French consulate with all the necessary documents to qualify as an “Expert” and comply with the mandatory posting requirements. Normally the visa is issued within 3-5 working days.
For all the posted workers the usual required declarations and filings must also be completed – posted-worker declaration, designation of the legal representative, French social security (if required) etc.
Comparison of the benefits of a work permit exempted “Expert” to business visas:
- Allows the employees to work and perform billable activities.
- Provide technical services at the client site in France.
- The visa cum work permit application is filed directly at the French Consulate in the country of residence and hence short processing time frame.
- Avoids risk of being noncompliant which could lead to fines for the employer and host company in France.
For further information on the “Expert visas” and other work permit procedures for France please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Manager – Immigration services at Expat Partners.