GST Implication on reimbursement of foreign expats salaries| “Manpower Supply service” or not

GST on reimbursement of salary

Time limit of issuance of notice for GST Assessment for FY 2017-18 lapsed on 30th September, 2023. Every industry is flooded with GST notices on various allegations including Purchase from canceled dealers, ITC reversal on exempted supplies, ITC ineligible under Section 17(5) of CGST etc. Notices are issued for FY 2017-18 till FY 2022-23.

One of the issues on which thousands of MNCs have received notice is GST on salary of foreign expats paid by foreign parent companies. GST Authorities have alleged that Indian Subsidiaries are liable to pay GST on such reimbursement considering it as “Manpower Supply services” rendered by the parent company.

This article makes a detailed discussion on applicability of GST on reimbursement of Expat salaries and what action Indian companies are required to take to avoid such liability:

1. Framework of salary payments to Foreign Expats

Employment of foreign expats works in following scenarios:

  1. In general, Indian entities enter into a contract with overseas group entities for rendering back office or IT Support services.
  2. Overseas entities maintain a pool of skilled employees located in their own territory and assign them to the Indian entities as per their request.
  3. These expats work under control and guidelines of Indian entities.
  4. However, to maintain the social security benefit of these employees, their employment contract remains vested with the foreign company only and their remuneration is also paid by the foreign company.
  5. Indian companies reimburse the remuneration of foreign expats to the Foreign Company.
  6. In some cases, Indian companies may also enter into employment contracts with Foreign expats and remit remuneration to them directly.

2. Issue under Litigation

GST Authorities have contended that Foreign Companies are providing “Manpower Supply services” to the Indian Companies. Since, place of supply for such service lies in India and location of service provider is outside India, therefore, such supply shall tantamount to “Import of service” and Indian Companies are liable to pay GST on such services under Reverse Charge Mechanism.

GST Authorities are also content if salaries to expats are paid by Indian companies directly then GST authorities have no objection as these foreign expats are considered as employees of Indian Subsidiaries.

3. Legal Framework

Flood of Show Cause Notices on salary of foreign expats is consequent of recent judgment of Hon’ble Supreme court in the matter of M/s C.C., C.E. & S.T., Bangalore (Adjudication) Vs Northern Operating Systems Pvt. Ltd. [2022 (61) G.S.T.L. 129 (S.C)] wherein Hon’ble apex court analyzed whether the activity of secondment of employees from a foreign group company to an Indian entity amounted to manpower supply service and required Indian entities to pay GST under RCM.

Hon’ble Apex court made following analysis:

  1. ‘Control’ is not the only factor which is to be considered to determine who is the employer of the foreign expats. Further, there is no one single determinative factor, which the courts give primacy to while deciding this question.
  2. In the given case, Secondment is part of the global policy of the foreign company loaning their services to the Indian Company on a temporary basis. On cessation of secondment period, Foreign expats are to be repatriated to foreign companies in accordance with the global repatriation policy. Further, agreement between Indian Company and foreign company does not state that the foreign expats would be treated as Indian Company employees after the seconded period.
  3. As per the agreements entered into between Indian Companies and Foreign Companies, the overseas company has a pool of highly skilled employees and these employees are seconded to the Indian entity for the use of their skills and upon cessation of terms of secondment, they return to their overseas employer, or are deployed on some other secondment.
  4. Even though control over performance of seconded employee’s work is with Indian Company, the fact remains that their overseas employer in relation to its business, deploys them to Indian Company, on secondment. 
  5. The salaries of foreign expats are paid by foreign companies and such salary is paid in accordance with policy of the overseas company, who is the employer of such foreign expats.
  6. Therefore, Hon’ble Apex court held that the overseas entity will continue to be the employer of the seconded employee and not the Indian entity.

4. GST Implication

Even though precedence was issued with respect to service tax law, i.e., Pre-GST regime, it will have a major impact under GST as well. Under the GST regime, if such services are considered Manpower Supply services, place of supply shall be determined in accordance with provisions of Section 13 of IGST Act.

As per Section 13 of IGST Act, “place of supply” of manpower services shall be determined as per Section 13(2), i.e, location of recipient. Location of supplier is outside India and place of supply is in India, so, cases where such service is considered as “Manpower Supply service”, such supply shall be considered as “Import of Service” and Indian company is required to pay GST under Reverse Charge Mechanism.

5. Way ahead

a. Factors to be considered to determine “Employment Contract” or “Manpower Supply Service”

Hon’ble Apex court has determined following factors which are to be considered collectively to determine who is the employer of the Foreign expats:

  1. Who is liable to make payment of remuneration to foreign expats?
  2. Who is entitled to exercise control over the work of Foreign expats?
  3. What is to be done with foreign expats post completion of assignment with Indian expats, i.e., whether they will remain with an Indian entity or will return to foreign company?
  4. Whether remuneration is paid in terms of policies of foreign companies or Indian companies?
  5. Whether there exists any employment contract between Indian companies and foreign expats?
  6. Whether foreign expats are assigned on “Assignment Basis” or on “periodical basis”.

b. Excessive Cash Flow

It is pertinent to note that GST liability under RCM is required to be paid through electronic cash ledger only and can’t be paid through Electronic credit ledger. Therefore, if such service is held  as “manpower supply service” it may result in huge cash outflow for Indian companies. 

Further, Entities having accumulated ITC or excess balance in electronic credit ledger may have to face unnecessary compilation of ITC which is paid in cash only.

c. Cautionally drafting of agreement

Therefore, to escape liability under GST and avoid huge cash outflow, the only remedy is cautionally drafting of agreement between Indian Company and Foreign company as different drafting may change the tax position completely and may result in heavy taxes and penalties

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to get these agreements and transactions vet and incorporate the specific clause to protect the interest of both the companies and the employee.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are strictly of the author and VJM & Associates LLP. The contents of this article are solely for informational purpose. It does not constitute professional advice or recommendation of firm. Neither the author nor firm and its affiliates accepts any liabilities for any loss or damage of any kind arising out of any information in this article nor for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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