Planning to travel for work during lockdown? Here’s what you need to know

Jan 6, 2021

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that England would enter its third national lockdown on 6 January in a bid to curb the mutant strain of COVID-19 that is said to be 70% more infectious.

The government is ordering people to stay at home to prevent the spread, cancel all holidays and not to travel either domestically or abroad until the vaccine starts to roll out successfully nationwide. The lockdown will last at least until mid-February.

Similar to Tier 4, there are strict “limited exceptions to this rule” — medical treatment, legal purposes, urgent compassionate leave and work.

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(Photo by Joseph Okpako/Contributor/Getty Images)

Over recent weeks, social media has revealed that many Brits have travelled to exotic and far-flung places like Dubai, the Caribbean and the Maldives, despite the government clearly stating that leisure travel is not allowed.

But some of these people — from reality stars to YouTubers, influencers and more — have claimed they are in these locations for “work purposes.”

Consequently, there seems to be a grey area about what actually constitutes work during a pandemic and lockdown. Promoting a brand or creating content for your audience versus transporting essential freight or carrying out vital engineering work — is there an answer?

The Burj Khalifah in Dubai during New Year’s Eve. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

If you’re planning on travelling abroad to work, the Department for Transport has issued a clear list of jobs that qualify for travel exemptions. If your job doesn’t fall under any of these categories, by law you cannot travel.

  • Advertising: Director, actor or director of photography and production dates and location, as well as a contact phone number for the relevant production company, will be required.
  • Aerospace engineers
  • Aircraft pilots and cabin crew
  • BBC broadcasting transmission network and services: People engaged in urgent or essential work for the BBC’s broadcasting transmission network and services.
    Border security duties — U.K. officials and contractors: People required to undertake essential government work related to the U.K.
  • Bus and coach drivers
  • Business directors bringing jobs and investment to the U.K:  Senior executives travelling or returning to England who would be likely to bring “significant economic benefit” to the U.K or 50% chance of either creating or preserving at least 50 U.K.-based jobs, a new U.K. business within one year or purchasing goods or services worth at least £100 million. You will also need to carry a letter signed by a company director from the businesses they are visiting and a short explanation which gives evidence of the need for the activities to be performed by the senior executive.
  • Channel Tunnel system workers
  • Civil aviation inspectors
  • Clinical trials or studies: You will have to provide confirmation from the trial sponsor including the date and location of the trial,
    what your involvement in the trial is, for example, if you manage, coordinate or administrate trials or medical research.
  • Crown servants or government contractors: Crown servants or government contractors travelling to the U.K. for essential government work, returning from conducting essential state business outside of the U.K.
  • Data infrastructure maintenance
  • Defence personnel, visiting forces and government contractors: You’ll need to request a letter from the Ministry of Defence confirming you are exempt.
  • Diplomatic missions, international organisations and conferences: Before you travel, your mission, international organisation or conference will need to notify the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) or Protocol Directorate who will issue an exemption letter to show at the border.
(Photo by picture alliance/Contributor/Getty Images)
  • Downstream oil facility workers
  • Drivers of goods vehicles
  • Electronic communications networks: People engaged in urgent or essential work on electronic communications networks.
  • Elite sportspersons — international: You’ll need to show written evidence from a United Kingdom or English national governing body for the sport of your status as an international elite sportsperson or essential support staff attending the specified event.
  • Elite sportspersons — domestic: You’ll need to provide written evidence from a United Kingdom or English national governing body for your sport confirming both your status as an elite sportsperson who has travelled to a non-exempt country or territory to participate in an elite sports event.
  • Medical examinations for elite sportspersons
  • Environment Agency relating to flood and coastal erosion risk management: You’ll have to provide contact details for the Environment Agency or lead local flood authority in England.
  • Eurostar International workers
  • Eurotunnel workers
  • Government contractors — the conduct of negotiations: You’ll need to request a letter from your responsible government department confirming you are exempt.
  • High-speed rail workers
  • International prison escorts: If you’re travelling internationally to escort prisoners, you’ll receive a letter from HMPPS. This letter will include your unique ID number linked to your prison service warrant card. You should present this letter and your warrant card on arrival in the U.K., which also includes your photograph.
  • IT and telecoms workers: You’ll need to show a letter from your company at the border, which includes your personal details, such as name and address, contact details for your employer and what work you’ll be doing.
  • Journalists: People who need to travel to England for work assignments, or return to England having travelled abroad for work assignments and you should carry a U.K. press card or International Press Card and a letter from your employer or commissioning editor.
  • Medicines — human and veterinary: Qualified persons and responsible persons for human and veterinary medicines, clinical trials, clinical investigations and pharmacovigilance.
  • National Lottery: People who represent organisations which are participating in the fourth National Lottery Licence competition.
  • Network Rail workers
  • Nuclear emergency responder
  • Offshore oil and gas workers: Workers required for the continued safe and secure operation, maintenance and essential support services for offshore oil and gas infrastructure in the U.K.
  • Offshore oil and gas
  • OPCW and IAEA inspectors: International nuclear safeguards and chemical industry inspectors, representing the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • Performing arts professionals: You should show an accreditation letter from the Arts Council England and a letter from the producing venue or organisation which includes the following information: activity dates and location and a contact phone number for the relevant organisation.
  • Postal workers
  • Quality assurance inspectors for human and veterinary medicines
  • Regular work abroad: People who live in the U.K. but work in another country and travel between the U.K. and country of work at least once a week and you’ll need to show evidence that you reside in one country but work in the other and you should also be able to demonstrate that you travel between the two on a minimum of a weekly basis, for example, a season ticket.
  • Registered health or care professionals
  • Regular work in the U.K., living abroad: People who live outside the U.K. but work in the U.K. and travel between their country of residence and the U.K. at least once a week.

Read more: What the new national lockdown means for your holiday plans

(Photo by Monty Rakusen/Getty Images)
  • Representatives of a foreign country or territory or British overseas territories: Representatives of a foreign country or territory and representatives of the British overseas territories, along with their families or dependents travelling to the U.K. to undertake official business with the U.K. This includes representatives of foreign countries or territories who are travelling to the U.K. on official visits, for example, to attend negotiations.
  • Seamen and masters and inspectors and surveyors of ships: If you work on a ship, including fishermen, you should show a Seafarer’s Identification Document (SID) if you have one. If you don’t have a SID, you can show your joining papers, seafarer’s employment agreement or a seafarer’s discharge book (Continuous Certificate of Discharge) instead. Alternatively, you could show a basic training certificate or declaration from the registered owners of the vessel that you are a crew member.
  • Seasonal agricultural workers
  • Seasonal poultry workers
  • Specialist technical workers: Workers with specialist technical skills required for essential or emergency works including construction, commissioning, installation, maintenance, repairs and safety checks or to fulfil contractual obligations.
  • Specialist technical workers — power infrastructure
  • Specialist technical workers — space infrastructure
  • Television production: Essential cast and crew who need to travel to England to work on a TV production, or return to England having travelled abroad to work on a TV production and essential cast and crew including directors, producers, directors of photography, lighting directors, creative directors and you will have to provide the name of the production company and the contact name and details of the commissioner from the broadcaster/on-demand service provider.
  • Transiting airside through the U.K.: People transiting airside (individuals who arrive in the U.K. but do not pass border control).
  • Transporting human cells or blood
  • Water supplies and sewerage services workers: You will need to show a letter from your company or the company you are coming to work for. Those bodies authorised to issue a letter are either Water U.K. or the relevant water undertaker, sewerage undertaker, water supply license, sewerage licensee or local authority that you’re carrying out the work for.

According to the government, having a second home abroad is also not considered a viable reason for international travel.

However, whose responsibility is it to enforce these rules? For one, it’s not the airlines’ responsibility to check a traveller’s reason for travel.

“These checks are carried out by the relevant authorities and not under the airline’s jurisdiction,” Virgin Atlantic said to TPG in a statement.

So, then it must fall on the police? While that’s generally the case, it’s difficult to enforce. Police sources told the Daily Telegraph that preventing people from travelling can be “unenforceable.” After all, stopping every passenger who travels through Heathrow could be a time consuming and potentially dangerous endeavour.

Jay Pewtner, a U.K.-based employer, posted in the TPG Lounge that two of his workers who were travelling to the UAE on 6 January had to confirm they were travelling for work purposes. Border staff at check-in asked the employees for documented proof of work and the details of their employer.

“I then had a call from immigration and asked to confirm and verify the details and explain the business crucially,” Pewtner said. “They were travelling to the UAE and are a medical repatriation team and despite carrying medical kits they still needed to prove it was essential business travel even though they were travelling to a corridor destination with full insurance cover.”

He added that a number of other passengers were offloaded from the flight to Dubai as their travel was deemed unessential.

The government says that if you travel outside your home without a “reasonable excuse,” the police can issue you a fine. This fine starts at £200 for the first offence, doubles for the second and can go up to £6,400.

If you are still unsure whether your job gives you a valid reason to travel, check the Department for Transport website.

Featured photo by Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images 

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