Migrant Workers

Employment law & immigrant employees

As a legal migrant worker, you are entitled to the same employment rights as a UK citizen. The laws in place are set out to ensure that employers treat their employees fairly, without exploitation or prejudice. When starting a new role you have basic rights that are likely develop further through continuous employment.

Every worker is entitled at the very least to their statutory rights. Any additional rights are dependent on the employment terms and conditions laid out within your contract of employment, should you have one.

Take a look at the rest of the Employment Law section for information on your rights as a worker.

If you are a European worker and want to come to the UK to work, your new employer will need to know if it is legal for you to do so. Find out if you will have to register and what proof you will need to show an employer.

Nearly all European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals are free to enter and live in the United Kingdom without the need to apply for permission.

EEA countries

The following is a list of all countries included as part of the EEA: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

European Union member states

An employee may need to register or ask permission if from a new European Union (EU) member state (called 'accession states').

Accession states - the A2 countries

Countries that joined the EU in 2007 are described as 'A2 countries' – these are Bulgaria and Romania.

An employee or migrant from one of these states will usually have to receive authorisation from the UK Border Agency before they can legally work within the UK.

You may need to apply for an accession worker card, which can only be done once your employer has successfully applied for a work permit (if you require one). Alternatively, you can apply as a highly skilled person to the UK Border Agency, or work under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme or the Sectors Based Scheme.

Once you have been working within the UK for 12 months solid, you will no longer require special permission to work here. You can then apply to the UK Border Agency for a registration certificate which will demonstrate that you have the right to live and work in the country.

No authorisation is required if you are to be self-employed.

What proof an employer will need

Employers offering work to nationals from an EEA country will require from the employee:

  • their passport
  • their national identity card
  • a Home Office registration certificate

No special permission is needed for nationals from the majority of EEA states.

A national from an A2 country will need express permission to work granted by the UK Border Agency, this comes in the form of a work document.

The employment of illegal workers can leave employers faced with unlimited fines, which is why many companies are very strict in their documentation procedures as due protection. This should never, however, be at the expense of any legal migrant workers, and is therefore no defence for discrimination.

Visa Applications

A worker's right to work in the UK is dependent on an employee's nationality. If you are a British citizen, or from one of the European Economic Area (EEA) countries, there will be no need to apply for a visa.

In order to obtain a visa, a migrant must be cleared by officials at a British Overseas Mission in your national country. Upon receiving your clearance certificate, or visa, the details will be added to your passport or travel document.

Non-EEA and non-Swiss nationals

For applications required for non-EEA and non-Swiss nationals, a points-based system was introduced. The system was introduced in 2008, with tiers being added at separate intervals.

Points-based system

The points based system is made up of five tiers, though only four are currently in operation:

  • Tier 1 - highly skilled workers
  • Tier 2 - skilled workers with a job offer
  • Tier 3 - low-skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages (this is currently suspended)
  • Tier 4 - students
  • Tier 5 - temporary workers and youth mobility

Tier 1

Introduced on 30 June 2008, to migrate to the UK or for visa extension an applicant must be a:

  • investor
  • highly skilled worker
  • post-study worker
  • entrepreneur

These rules apply also for those within the UK under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, replaced by the introduction of Tier 1.

Tier 2

Introduced on 27 November 2008, as a skilled worker with a job offer, i.e. nurse or teacher, you would qualify for Tier 2 as long as you have the following:

  • a Certificate of Sponsorship (provided by an organisation who has a UK Border Agency sponsorship license)
  • evidence supporting the other criteria met in your application

Tier 3

The route for low-skilled workers known as Tier 3 is currently suspended.

Tier 4

Introduced on 31 March 2009, student admission is divided into two groups:

  • adult student
  • child student

The study must be provided by an approved education provider, holding a UK Border Agency Tier 4 sponsorship license.

Tier 5

Introduced on 27 November 2008, and set out for youth mobility or temporary worker employment, you must have:

  • a Certificate of Sponsorship provided by an organisation who has a UK Border Agency sponsorship licence
  • evidence supporting the other criteria met in your application

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