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The Frontier Worker Permit Scheme: a process for EEA nationals working in the UK before 31 December 2020. When and how to apply for a permit.

On 10 December 2020, the Home Office launched the Frontier Worker Permit Scheme - a process for EEA nationals working in the UK before 31 December 2020 to apply for a frontier worker permit. This scheme will allow some cross-border commuters, who work in the UK but live overseas, to continue their ad hoc working pattern after the end of the Brexit transition period. Applications are free and there is no requirement to pay the immigration health surcharge.

This is good news for many employers, particularly in industries such as construction and professional services. The introduction of the frontier worker permit allows mobility for some individuals to continue to come and work in the UK on an ad hoc basis.

If a business wants to transfer EEA nationals to work in the UK from 1 January 2021 on an ad hoc or temporary basis, for example to work on a construction project, they should find out whether the individual has previously lived or worked in the UK before 1 January 2021 and consider whether they are eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme or for a frontier worker permit.

Define a frontier worker

EEA nationals who are employed or self-employed in the UK by 11 pm on 31 December 2020 (the end of the Brexit transition period) but not primarily resident in the UK, are frontier workers. Irish citizens do not need to apply for a frontier worker permit, but can choose to do so.

An individual is considered primarily resident outside the UK if at a specific point in time they can demonstrate either:

  • That they have been in the UK for less than 180 days in the 12 months before applying; or
  • They have returned to their country of residence at least once in the last 6 months, or twice in the last 12 months before applying, unless there are exceptional reasons for not having done so.

EEA nationals who have stopped working in the UK temporarily may retain frontier worker status in certain circumstances, e.g.

  • If they had been working in the UK for a year or longer but are temporarily unable to work due to involuntary unemployment, they will retain frontier worker status for 6 months (longer if they can show compelling evidence of continuing to seek work in the UK);
  • If they had been working in the UK for less than a year and become involuntarily unemployed then they will retain frontier worker status for 6 months only;
  • They may retain frontier worker status in certain circumstances if they have temporarily stopped work due to illness, accident, pregnancy, childbirth or vocational training.

If any of these circumstances apply, they will have ‘retained worker’ or ‘retained self-employed person’ status.

If you have any queries about how to retain frontier worker status it is advisable to seek expert advice, as the specific requirements are complex.

What can a frontier worker do?

A Frontier Worker Permit can be used to enter the UK as a frontier worker and evidence a right to:

  • Work;
  • Rent;
  • Access benefits and services, including the NHS healthcare system if the eligibility requirements are met.

Work in the UK is allowed, with the proviso that the work is ‘genuine and effective’. It cannot be small, isolated tasks e.g. attending an interview, signing documents, or participating in a one-off competition.

When to apply

A frontier worker permit must be obtained to enter the UK from 1 July 2021. Prior to that date, EEA nationals can continue to travel to and work in the UK using their current passport or national ID card.

This timescale is very short, particularly since the route has not been widely publicised and the guidance on the application process has only recently been made available. For this reason, some EEA nationals may not be aware this route exists and there is not much time to make arrangements before the end of the transition period.

There is no deadline to applying, so it will be possible to obtain a frontier worker permit in the future if the eligibility requirements are met.

How to apply

Applications must be made online. Applicants will be told if they need to attend an appointment at a Visa Application Centre, or, at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) Point when they make an application. If they can use a smartphone app and have a passport or ID card with a biometric chip, an appointment will usually not be required.

Documents required

When an application is made, the applicant will be told which documents they need to provide. The current passport or national identity card will be needed. Other documents will depend on the employment status. If an individual is employed, they may need to provide an employment contract. Those self-employed may need to provide documents such as invoices for work carried out in the UK.

Those with retained status have to provide evidence that they meet the specific criteria.

Successful applications

Applicants will receive a decision notice confirming their application has been approved. If they applied using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’, they will be issued a digital version of their permit. Otherwise, they will be sent a physical version of the permit if they applied in the UK. Alternatively, if they applied from outside the UK, they will receive an email explaining how they can come to the UK and collect their physical permit.

  • Employed workers’ permits are valid for 5 years;
  • Self-employed and retained frontier workers’ permits are valid for 2 years.

Renewal

Applicants must be able to evidence that they continuously met the eligibility requirements throughout the period they were working and that they continue to meet them at the time of renewal.

If an individual meets the criteria for retained status, they will still be able to apply for a 2-year permit.

What the Permit does not cover

If an EEA national wants to work in the UK, but has not worked here by 31 December 2020, then they will not be eligible to apply under this scheme and they will instead have to apply for immigration permission under the new points-based immigration system. Which visa they apply for will depend on the type of work they will do and how long they want to stay. In most cases, a UK employer will need to sponsor a Skilled Worker and will require a sponsor licence to do so.

The Frontier Worker Permit does not cover family members. However, they may be eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.

It is also important to note that a frontier worker permit will not lead to settlement, but it can be extended multiple times. If an EEA national wants to pursue settlement or long-term status in the UK, they may instead make application for pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or leave to enter or remain under the new Skilled Worker route.

The Home Office has also confirmed that frontier workers may apply to switch to a different work route under the new points-based immigration system from within the UK, as long as they meet eligibility requirements of the category they wish to switch into.

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