Work or business?

Jul 29, 2020

One of the most frequently asked questions and indeed controversial issue is what a foreign national can do in Italy on a business trip.

Legal framework:

Foreign nationals can obtain a business visa (C type Schengen visa,) allowing them to visit Italy for up to 90 days in 180 days or – if the individual is a national of one of the “visa waiver” countries – can travel to the country on a business trip just on his passport for up to 90 days in 180 days.

What is business?

What can a foreign national do in Italy as a “business visitor”? In Italian immigration regulation, the only reference to the list of permitted activities is to be found in the so called “visa decree” of n. 850/2011. The Decree defines business trips “…. finalità economico-commerciali, per contatti o trattative, per l’apprendimento o la verifica dell’uso e del funzionamento di beni strumentali acquistati o venduti nell’ambito di contratti commerciali e di cooperazione industriale […] Qualora il cittadino straniero viaggi per affari invitato in Italia da un’impresa operante in territorio nazionale, per contatti, trattative economiche o commerciali, per l’apprendimento o la verifica dell’uso e del funzionamento di macchinari acquistati o venduti nell’ambito di contratti commerciali e di cooperazione industriale con imprese italiane o per il relativo aggiornamento professionale, per la visita alle strutture dell’impresa italiana, ovvero per la partecipazione a mostre o fiere di settore in Italia, l’istanza di rilascio del visto d’ingresso deve essere accompagnata da una “dichiarazione d’invito” sottoscritta dall’Ente o dalla stessa impresa italiana, con la quale si indichi il periodo ed il motivo del soggiorno richiesto, nonché l’attività che sarà svolta dallo straniero invitato. Il visto per affari, in presenza di analoghi requisiti, può essere rilasciato anche alle persone che accompagnino, per documentate ragioni di lavoro, il richiedente.”

Non official translation: The business visa allows entry into Italy for a short stay to the foreigner travelling for economic-commercial purposes, to make contacts or conduct negotiations, for learning or verifying the functioning of capital goods purchased or sold under commercial and industrial cooperation agreements. […] In case the foreign national is travelling further to an invitation from a company operating in Italy to make contacts, to conduct economic or commercial negotiations, to learn or verify the functioning of machinery purchased or sold under commercial and industrial cooperation agreements with Italian company or for the relevant professional refresher training, to visit the Italian company facilities or to participate in exhibitions and trade fairs in Italy, it is necessary to have a “declaration of invitation/invitation letter” signed by the Company or institution, detailing the period and purpose of the stay and the activities that will be carried out by the foreigner. If similar requirements are met, a business visa can be granted also to persons accompanying the applicant for documented business reasons)

Remarks:

Being the definition of allowable activities very limited and vague, it leaves space to different interpretations on the matter. For this reason, activities, which may be seen as “business” according to the definitions, could be qualified otherwise by authorities in case of a labour inspection. As a general rule, travel on business must not imply undertaking gainful employment in Italy.

For a possible interpretation of the definition of “business trip” it may be helpful to make reference to European regulation, in particular:

  1. the proposal of amendment of Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 and Regulation (EC) No 987/2009. Business trip is defined as – among other things – “a temporary activity related to the business interests of the employer, not including the provision of services or the delivery of goods , such as attending internal and external business meetings, attending conferences and seminars, negotiating business deals, […] exploring business opportunities […]”. Also, according to art. 57 of the TFEU “Services […] are normally provided for remuneration […] and in particular include: activities of an industrial character; […] of craftsmen; of the professions
  2. the Proposal for the amendment of the Blue Card Directive 2009/50 (ref. 2016/0176 (COD)). Art. 2(l) defines “business activity” as a “temporary activity related to the business interests of the employer, such as attending internal and external business meetings, attending conferences and seminars, negotiating business deals, undertaking sales or marketing activities, performing internal or client audits, exploring business opportunities, or attending and receiving training”.

Conclusions:

As we can see from the above, the provision of services is not listed and not comprised in any definition of “business”. As a conclusion, we can say that any activities which can be qualified as “provision of services” could not be considered as business and would require a work permit, despite the duration of the trip.

Giuditta Petreni

Giuditta Petreni has over 10 years of experience in assisting companies and business investors with relocation of managers and staff to Italy. Giuditta has extensive experience advising corporate and private clients on a full range of Italian immigration categories. She is fluent in Italian and English.

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