Frontier workers are individuals who work in one country while their primary residence is in another.
EU freedom of movement had enabled frontier workers to come and go between the UK and EU member states without being subject to immigration control.
However, under the UK’s new points-based immigration rules, non-UK residents require permission to come to the UK to work, live and study. This includes cross-border workers who are EEA or Swiss nationals and are not primarily resident in the UK.
UK immigration options for EU workers to secure lawful UK status now include:
- Applying under the EU settlement scheme. This scheme is open to EU nationals and their family members who were resident in the UK by 31 December 2020. Individuals must apply to the scheme by 30 June 2021 to retain lawful status. Those with five years of more continuous residence are granted settled status, while those with under five years are granted pre-settled status.
- Sponsorship as a skilled worker under the intra-company transfer (ICT) route. This visa is for skilled workers to transfer to the UK from an overseas branch of a UK company in order to undertake work on a specific project. The eligibility requirements are strict, and the employer has to hold a sponsor licence and meet various compliance duties for the duration of the licence validity.
However, EU frontier workers in most cases will not be eligible under either of these routes.
The special status of frontier workers was recognised during the Brexit negotiations and under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the UK guaranteed that frontier workers who began working in the UK before the end of the transition period on 11pm on 31st December 2020 would be able to continue to work after free movement ends, provided they obtain a frontier worker permit by 30 June 2021.
What is the frontier worker permit?
The frontier worker permit grants EU workers permission to remain in the UK following the end of the implementation period on 31st December 2020, providing they were already working in the UK by this date. It should be appropriate for those who do not want to, or are not eligible to, apply for long term status under settled status or an ICT visa.
This means cross-border workers can keep their frontier worker status if they are ‘frontier working’ in the UK by 31 December 2020, but they will need to apply for a frontier worker permit.
Key points to note:
- Workers can apply if they held frontier worker status by 31 December 2020.
- Applications are free.
- Applications are submitted online, from inside or outside the UK.
- Successful applications are valid for five years for frontier workers and individuals who are self-employed, or two years for retained workers.
- The permit may be renewed indefinitely but will not qualify as a route to indefinite leave to remain or settlement.
- The permit is valid only while the holder continues to be a frontier worker.
Dependents and frontier workers arriving in the UK after December 31, 2020 will not be eligible for the frontier worker permit. They must instead apply for a visa under the points-based immigration system.
What are the frontier worker permit requirements?
To be eligible for a frontier worker permit, the individual must meet the following criteria:
- They are from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein
- Their primary residence is NOT in the UK.
- They have worked in the UK by 31 December 2020.
- They have kept working in the UK at least once every 12 months since they started working here.
Their frontier work must have began before 31st December 2020 and they are continuing the same working pattern when applying for a frontier worker permit as one of the following:
- A worker,
- Self-employed, or
- A person who has retained the status of being a worker or self-employed under regulation 4.
If there has been a 12-month period where the applicant has not come to the UK to work, they might still be eligible. They must have worked in the UK, while living elsewhere, by 31 December 2020, and during the 12-month period when they were not working, they must have been:
- temporarily unable to work because of an illness or accident
- temporarily unable to work because they 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 and work because of coronavirus (COVID-19)
This is known as having ‘retained worker’ or ‘retained self-employed person’ status.
What does ‘not primarily resident’ mean?
To be considered as not primarily resident in the UK for the purposes of a frontier worker permit, the applicant will need to show:
- They have been present in the UK for fewer than 180 days in the immediate twelve months prior to 31st December 2020;
- They returned to their country of residence on at least one occasion during the last six months or twice in the twelve-month period prior to 31st December 2020 unless there are exceptional reasons for not doing so.
The permit may also be suitable for EEA nationals ineligible for settled status due to the UK residency requirement, to retain lawful status in the UK provided they return home at least every six months.
What qualifies as ‘work’ for the permit?
Applicants will be eligible provided their work in the UK is ‘genuine and effective’. This means that their work must be more than small, one-off tasks, such as an interview, taking part in a one-off competition or audition or signing a contract.
How do you apply for a frontier worker permit?
Applications for the permit are made online and are free of charge.
Most applicants can use the ‘UK Immigration: ID check’ app to verify their identity, or this can be done on the .gov website. Identity documents will need to be provided, including a valid passport or national identity card.
In addition, supporting documents will need to be provided to prove the applicant meets the eligibility criteria and that their work qualifies as frontier work. Depending on whether the applicant is employed or self-employed, or applying with retained status, supporting documents could include:
- an employment contract, or contracts to work in the UK
- payslips, or copies of invoices for work carried out in the UK
- a letter from a doctor if they have an illness, or copies of recent job applications if they are unemployed and seeking work.
How long does a frontier permit last?
The Frontier Worker Permit has a five-year eligibility period for frontier workers and individuals who are self-employed, or a two-year validity for retained workers.
Where an individual ceases to qualify as a frontier worker, the permit can be revoked and immigration status lost.
Frontier workers who have to stop working may be able to retain their permit for up to two years, provided their reason for ceasing work is due to one of a number of specific grounds per the government guidelines, including illness or an accident, pregnancy or childbirth, paternity leave, unemployment, or vocational training.
Those who become unemployed can only retain the permit for six months where they have been working in the UK for less than twelve months.
The permit can be renewed in advance of its expiration period, but it cannot be used as a route to attain a long residence application due to the strict requirement of absence. Where UK settlement is the aim, individuals should consider alternative immigration routes.
Renewing the frontier worker permit
When renewing their permit, applicants will need to show that they continued to meet the eligibility requirements over the period of time since they last applied.
If they are no longer employed or self-employed at the point when they apply to renew their permit, or they are temporarily unable to work, they may still be able to apply for a 2-year permit as someone with ‘retained’ status (as long as they meet the requirements).
Is the frontier permit an alternative to the visitor visa?
Frontier worker permit holders should not rely on their permit to enter the UK for reasons other than frontier work.
From 1 July 2021, to enter the UK as a tourist, they can use passport through an eGate and obtain leave as a visitor. Entering the UK through an eGate is the usual route for those who are eligible to pass through one, strictly for the purpose of visiting the UK for a reason listed in Appendix V of the Immigration Rules. Individuals cannot enter the UK via an eGate on a national ID card or a non-biometric passport.
Key dates for frontier workers
To be eligible for a permit, the individual must have been performing frontier work in the UK before 31 December 2020.
From 1 July 2021, frontier workers will need to hold a valid frontier worker permit, as well as a valid passport or a national identity card, to enter the UK as a frontier worker.
Until 1 July 2021, frontier workers can continue entering the UK as a frontier worker using their valid passport or national identity card.
How much does a frontier worker permit cost?
The frontier permit is free to apply for. Applicants are exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge.
Can an application for a frontier worker permit be refused?
Applications can be refused for a number of potential reasons. Public policy, public health or security grounds are all areas that can lead to a refusal. If an individual has previously lost their frontier worker status, it can also lead to any future applications being refused.
Applications can also be refused under regulation 20 which relates to a ‘misuse’ of frontier worker rights. There will be a misuse of rights where someone ‘intends to obtain an advantage from these Regulations by engaging in conduct which artificially creates the conditions required to satisfy the criteria set out in these Regulations. Arguably, because of its opacity, this gives the Home Office plenty of scope to refuse an application outright.
What are the alternatives to the frontier worker scheme for non-UK resident workers?
Non-UK resident workers coming to the UK from 1st January 2021 have to apply through the UK ‘points-based immigration system’ for permission to enter or remain in the UK to work. If not eligible for the frontier worker scheme, alternative routes under the new system could include:
There is a route for skilled workers to join the UK workforce who have an offer of employment from an approved employer sponsor. You will need to have reached a level of ‘RFQ3 or above’ which is equivalent to a UK A level, need to be able to speak English, and be paid the relevant threshold salary. The threshold salary rules are complex, and dependent on a number of factors, but in most cases, the minimum level is generally £25,600. In some cases, if your salary is less than £25,600 but no less than £20,480 you may still be able to apply by ‘trading’ points on particular characteristics against salary. For example, if you have an offer of employment for a role that is on the shortage occupation list.
Global talent scheme
The global talent scheme is already open to non-EU citizens and will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss nationals. The scheme allows highly skilled researchers and scientists to enter the UK without the offer of employment.
International students and graduates
International students can apply for a visa to study in the UK if:
- They have been offered a place on a course
- They understand, read, speak, and write English
- They are able to support themselves financially and pay for the course
The UK’s new graduate immigration route opens on 1 July 2021 for international students who have completed a degree. A graduate will be able to look for work, or work in the UK at any skill level for up to two years, or up to three years for PhD students.
Visiting the UK
EU, EEA and Swiss nationals will not require a visa to enter the UK if they are visiting for up to six months. However, if there is an intention to work or study they should apply for entry clearance in advance of entering the UK under the relevant route.
EU citizens living in the UK by 31st December 2020
Frontier workers should consider whether they will be eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme for pre-settled or settled status.
EEA nationals who were living in the UK by 31 December 2020 have until 30 June 2021 to register themselves under the EU Settlement Scheme to retain the right to live and work in the UK.
As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris’ immigration specialists advise employers on all aspects of workforce global mobility including the immigration aspects of the end of EU free movement and its impact on recruitment and onboarding. Working closely with our expert HR consultants, we provide a holistic advisory and support service to enable employers to consider the full people and legal risk concerns of operating across borders after the end of EU free movement. For advice on your organisation’s needs, contact us.
Frontier worker permit FAQs
What is a frontier worker?
A frontier worker is someone who works in one country but their primary residence is in another.
Do frontier workers in the UK need a visa?
Frontier workers who were working in the UK prior to 31st December 2020 will not need an additional visa, however, they will need to apply for a frontier worker permit to enable them to continue to work in the UK from 1 July 2021. EU workers who wish to enter the UK to work after 1st January 2021 have to apply for a visa through the UK points-based immigration system.
How much does a frontier worker permit cost?
The frontier worker permit is free to apply for
Last updated: 15 April 2021