I have been denied entry to the UK, what are my options?
April 18, 2016 1:36 PM   Subscribe

After 3 years and 51 routine visits the UK where I have a client, I was rejected from entering last week. More inside...

Here's my situation. I am an American citizen living in Spain, where I am a permanent resident. I own my own small business here and I am an IT consultant. For the last 3 years, I have had the same client who contracts me to work for them full time. My client is in London and I work from home most of the time but they ask me to come to London every 2 weeks for 3 days to attend face to face meetings.
I have done this, for 3 years, entering UK with my American passport without a single incident and have been through UK immigration checks a total of 51 times over that period. On every occasion, I have always stated what the purpose of my visit was; to attend meetings at my employer's offices.
Suddenly, last week, I was questioned by a certain immigration officer about he details of my consulting contract. I was completely open and transparent about everything. I was asked to send invoices and put them in touch with the company's HR department who they were able to reach and confirm my story. After a whole morning in detention, I was denied entry to the UK on the basis that I do not qualify to enter as a visitor and must seek special sponsorship from my client. His reasoning was that the amount of time I spend at my clients offices in the UK constitutes me entering the UK as a visitor for the purpose of working and therefore in violation of the rules. The funny thing is, I told this officer that I had seen him many times before and that he had previously granted me entry. When he looked through my passport sure enough he saw his own signature there.
My client is not interested in seeking sponsorship because that is meant for employees they plan to hire and bring to work for them in the UK, in house. Since I do nothing but attend meetings and do most of my work from Spain, I believe this is the wrong decision on the part of this officer but nonetheless I was rejected and put on a return flight home.
I am in a difficult situation now because I need to attend these meetings and if I can't find a way to enter the UK I will almost certainly lose my only client at the moment.
I have one very viable option, which is to get Spanish citizenship and I have applied but this will take months. Months that I do not have.
I would greatly appreciate any advice!
posted by postergeist to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Short term, can you teleconference these meetings?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:46 PM on April 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Perhaps conduct face-to-face meetings with your client over Skype or similar services, so as to gain time to hire legal representation that specializes in UK immigration law, who can assist you with figuring out a plan going forwards that will work best for your situation.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:46 PM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

IANAImmigration Lawyer, but, I have had distance dealings with visa issues like these in the context of visiting academics doing one-off paid gigs e.g. giving a lecture, doing examining, conference business, etc. You could look into "Permitted Paid Engagement" and "Standard Visitor Visa" - the former is more appropriate if you're actually being paid specifically for the meetings, the latter if it's 'just' a meeting that's part of your general work but happens to be based in the UK, but, as always, you absolutely need to get an expert opinion because the UK system is currently incredibly unforgiving, and ever hardening.

My understanding is that these visas can be processed in under a month - but I am *not* clear whether they will allow multiple entries on the same visa, to cover the situation you're in. Spanish citizenship is a longer term solution, although, sadly, you may want to wait until the Referendum to see if it's worth your while.
posted by AFII at 1:50 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not really the wrong decision. You're working in the UK for 3 days every two weeks. The pattern makes it pretty clear that's the case. You are not a UK or EU citizen and you're not entitled to do this.

Try flying to Dublin, taking the train to Belfast and taking an internal UK flight to London. You may or may not be denied entry, it depends on how seriously they took your denial and accordingly, whether they shared that information with other border agencies. Like Ireland.

Be aware that being busted for this may compromise your Spanish citizenship application.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:55 PM on April 18, 2016 [23 favorites]

Best answer: As one who travels regularly to Europe I would suggest you immediately begin securing Spanish citizenship. As an outsider it would also appear to me that you maybe/are entering the UK for purposes of work and not a simple/occasional consulting arrangement. It might also appear your employer may be trying to finesse the requirement re: sponsorship and work related visas. I do not think the 51 visits works in your favour. My understanding ( strictly from a layman's point of view) is that these types of decisions can not be appealed. I would hope you have the resources to secure the help of an experienced immigration lawyer in the UK. As you know all to well--immigration/passport control is getting more and more difficult. Wishing you the best
posted by rmhsinc at 1:57 PM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hmm. Doesn't bode well it appears. Thanks for the responses. I do already do skype meetings but they are not really a replacement for face to face, which are important.

Getting to London via Dublin and Belfast isn't really a viable option. Plus I think it's too risky to attempt. If I am turned away again I will surely make a bad situation worse.
posted by postergeist at 2:58 PM on April 18, 2016

Best answer: Yes definitely don't do that, it's much too risky.

Some of my friends have had UK visa issues, and their advice was overwhelmingly to throw money at the best immigration lawyer you can afford, who will make all of this go away far quicker than you can on your own. Even people with apparently straightforward visa applications that they totally thought they could just do themselves (it's just a few forms, and these were educated professionals) found that hold ups that had dragged on for months magically vanished when an expert took over. I've also seen plenty of my poor asylum-seeking patients stuck in immigration limbo for years "because they can't afford a lawyer to sort it out for them" (direct quote from an immigration officer).

It shouldn't be that way, but enough people have told me independently that it IS that way that I now believe them.
posted by tinkletown at 3:59 PM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

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