A “frontier worker” is a resident of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein, who is employed or self-employed in the United Kingdom.
From 1 July 2021, the UK government will require each frontier worker to hold a valid frontier worker permit, as well as a valid passport or national identity card, in order to enter the United Kingdom as a frontier worker. The frontier worker permit allows nationals of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein to continue coming to the United Kingdom to work whilst residing elsewhere. Irish citizens have a right to work and reside in the United Kingdom and thus are not required to apply for frontier worker permits, though they can do so if they so choose.
Frontier workers who were already working in the United Kingdom before 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020 may maintain their frontier worker status, but they are required to apply for permits in order to do so. The frontier worker permit is not available to frontier workers who arrived on or after 1 January 2021 or who did not work in the United Kingdom prior to 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020; instead, such workers—ineligible for the frontier worker permit—are now required to obtain work visas under the United Kingdom’s new points-based immigration system.
Who is eligible?
To be eligible for the permit, an applicant must:
- be a national of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein;
- live outside the United Kingdom;
- have worked in the United Kingdom at least once in the 12 months before 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020; and
- have worked and kept working in the United Kingdom at least once every 12 months since the date the applicant commenced working in the United Kingdom.
There is no fee to apply for the permit, and applicants do not have to pay the immigration health surcharge. They may, however, have to pay to submit their biometric information (photographs or fingerprints). Successful applicants will be able to work, rent property, and access benefits and services (including the National Health Service) in the United Kingdom, so long as they meet the relevant requirements.
Living outside the United Kingdom
UK government guidance defines “living outside the UK” as being “not primarily resident in the UK immediately before 11pm GMT on 31 December 2020, and continu[ing] to not be primarily resident in the UK thereafter.”
“Not primarily resident in the UK” means having “spent less than 180 days in total in the UK over the course of any 12-month period.” However, frontier workers who have “been present in the UK for more than a total of 180 days in any relevant 12-month period or periods” could still be eligible, if in the 12-month period, they returned to the countries they live in at least either:
- once every 6 months; or
- twice in the 12-month period.
The guidance also suggests that the government will still consider frontier workers’ applications if there are “exceptional circumstances,” such as illnesses or accidents, under which they could not travel to their countries of residence during the 12-month period.
Frontier workers who have not worked in the United Kingdom during a 12-month period
Frontier workers who have not come to the United Kingdom to work during a 12-month period may still be eligible due to allowances that the government provides.
For example, a frontier worker who previously worked in the United Kingdom while living elsewhere before 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020 may meet the requirements to “retain [his or her] worker status” if, during the 12-month period, he or she was:
- temporarily unable to work because of an illness or accident;
- temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy or having given birth;
- involuntarily unemployed and either looking for work in the United Kingdom or doing vocational training;
- voluntarily unemployed and doing vocational training related to the individual’s last occupation; or
- unable to come to the United Kingdom and work because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
This would then be known as having “retained worker” or “retained self-employed person” status.
A grace period currently applies for eligible frontier workers to continue working in the United Kingdom, and applications for frontier worker permits will be accepted until 30 June 2021. The frontier worker permit has a five-year eligibility period for frontier workers and individuals who are self-employed. However, permits with “retained” frontier worker status will be valid for only two years. The permit is renewable for all categories; however, as frontier workers are not UK residents, they may not be eligible for settled or pre-settled status under the European Union Settlement Scheme.
How to apply
Frontier workers can apply for the permit online. Those applicants who were able to use the “UK Immigration: ID Check” app were able to apply from 10 December 2020. Workers who could not use the app have been able to apply online from 22 January 2021.
Frontier workers will need a valid passport or national identity card in order to apply. Other documents required by the UK Home Office will be requested at the time of application as they will depend on whether a worker is employed or self-employed. Examples of these documents may include:
- “an employment contract, or contracts to work in the UK”; or
- “payslips, or copies of invoices for work carried out in the UK.”
Frontier workers with “retained” status will be asked for evidence of which criteria they meet. For example, evidence may include doctors’ letters for workers who have illnesses or copies of recent job applications for those who are unemployed and seeking work.
Successful applicants will be sent decision notices notifying them that their applications have been approved.
Applicants who used the “UK Immigration: ID Check” app to apply will be issued digital versions of the permit. Those who did not use the smartphone app to apply will either be sent:
- physical versions of the permit (if they applied inside the United Kingdom); or
- email explaining how they can come to the United Kingdom and collect their permits (if they applied outside the United Kingdom).
What Does This Mean for Employers?
Employers of cross-border workers or organisations that rely on self-employed nationals of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein who are resident overseas but work in the United Kingdom occasionally may want to consider whether these individuals will require frontier worker permits to enable them to continue to work in the United Kingdom.
Carrie-Ann Hopkins is a paralegal in the London office of Ogletree Deakins.