What is the UK's Frontier
Worker permit Scheme?

Although frontier working in Europe is not a new concept, since leaving the EU, the United Kingdom has laid out its own immigration process for those European nationals who work in the United Kingdom whilst being primarily resident overseas.

On 10 December 2020, the UK’s Frontier Worker Permit Scheme was opened to enable those European nationals who started working in the UK on or before 31 December 2020 to continue to work here now that Freedom of Movement has ended.

Although there is no deadline to apply, frontier workers will need to hold a valid permit to enter the UK from 1 July 2021.

What constitutes frontier working?

Frontier working is common in multinational companies, where employees split their time between working in multiple locations. For example, a German employee living and working in Berlin, whose role requires them to commute regularly into the UK to undertake work at the company’s office in London would be considered a frontier worker.

The rise of cheap and convenient transport links between the UK and the rest of Europe in the context of free movement has led to increased numbers of people undertaking this working pattern in previous years.

Who can apply for a Frontier Worker permit?

In order to apply for a Frontier Worker permit, you must:

  • Be a EU, EEA or Swiss national
  • Live ‘primarily’ outside of the UK
  • Have worked in the UK before 31 Dec 2020
  • Have kept working in the UK at least once every 12 months since the date you began working here

You must also be able to demonstrate that the work you carry out in the UK is ‘genuine and effective’. This means it must be more than small, one-off tasks such as attending an interview or signing a contract.

Irish citizens’ rights are already protected under the Common Travel Area. They can apply for a Frontier Worker permit if they wish, but it is not a requirement.

What does ‘primarily resident’ mean?

The Home Office criteria to assess whether someone lives ‘primarily’ outside of the UK can seem confusing. You must meet this requirement by demonstrating how much time you’ve spent in the UK over the course of a 12 month period since 1 January 2020. You will be eligible if either of the following apply:

  • You have spent less than 180 days in total in the UK during any 12 month period from 1 January 2020 until the date of application
  • You have spent more than 180 days in the UK during that 12 month period, but you returned to your country of residence at least once every six months, or twice in the 12 month period.

If you have been unable to travel to your country of residence due to exceptional circumstances such as COVID-19 or illness, you will still be able to apply.

Applying with ‘retained status’

If there has been a 12-month period where you have been unable to come to the UK to work, you may be able to ‘retain’ your status as a frontier worker, and still be eligible to apply for a permit. To qualify for retained status, you must have been either:

  • Temporarily unable to work due to illness or an accident, or because you were pregnant or had given birth
  • Involuntarily unemployed and either looking for work or doing vocational training
  • Voluntarily unemployed and doing vocational training related to your last occupation
  • Unable to come to the UK due to COVID-19 restrictions

The application process

Applications for the permit are submitted online via the gov.uk website, and can be filed from outside or inside the UK. There is no fee to apply for the permit, and applicants do not need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge. However, you may need to pay a fee to submit your biometric information.

Applicants will need to hold a valid passport or national identity card, and may be required to submit other supporting documentation such as an employment contract or a contract to work in the UK, payslips or copies of invoices for work carried out in the UK. To prove your identity as part of your application, you can use the UK Immigration: ID check smartphone app, or attend an appointment at a visa application centre.

What permissions are granted with a Frontier Worker permit?

A Frontier Worker permit will grant the holder permission to work, rent property and access benefits and services such as the NHS in the UK, providing they meet the relevant eligibility requirements.

A Frontier Worker permit does not grant the holder leave to enter or remain in the UK under the Immigration Rules on the same basis as other visa categories, but instead serves as a right of admission as a person who is exempt from immigration controls.

Although a Frontier Worker permit can be renewed indefinitely as long as the applicant still meets the eligibility requirements, it does not lead to settlement in the UK. Frontier workers will need to renew their permit every 5 years, or every 2 years if they applied with a retained worker status.

Expert advice on your immigration options

It is important for frontier workers and their employers to carefully consider all other visa options available before applying for a Frontier Worker permit.

Employers of European staff who regularly travel to the UK to work should discuss immigration options with their employees to ensure they can lawfully continue to fulfil their roles post-Brexit.

Smith Stone Walters can provide up to date, impartial advice on the best immigration route for your employees. To speak to an advisor, please contact us today.

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