In this blog we will outline the key information on the frontier worker permit scheme which employers should be aware of. The end of freedom of movement now that the Brexit transition period has ended has impacted frontier workers – sometimes referred to as cross-border EEA workers who live outside the UK but travel to the UK to work. The new rules in relation to frontier workers are likely to impact certain sectors more than others. The frontier worker permit scheme may provide a solution for certain multinational companies who already had EEA cross-border workers coming to the UK for work before the transition period ended. 

When did the scheme open?

The new frontier worker permit scheme opened on 10 December 2020. This scheme is being implemented in order to fulfil certain obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement to protect the rights of certain cross-border workers to continue to take up employment or self-employment in the UK after the end of the transition period.

Who is a frontier worker?

A frontier worker, is an EEA or Swiss citizen, who regularly travels to work or for self-employment in the UK, but whose primary residence is outside the UK. The Regulations contain a precise definition of a frontier worker that must be met for the individual to qualify for a permit, including what is meant by not being 'primarily resident' in the UK.

Who needs to apply for a frontier worker permit?

Frontier workers who are currently working in the UK (which includes being employed or self-employed) and who worked or were self-employed in the UK at least once in the 12-month period before 31 December 2020 will need to apply for a permit in order to retain their frontier worker status after 30 June 2021. From 1 July 2021 a frontier worker will require a valid frontier worker permit as well as a valid passport or national identity card to enter the UK. Those who obtain a frontier worker permit will be exempt from the need to have leave to enter or remain in the UK. 

In order to maintain frontier worker status, individuals must continue to come to the UK for the purpose of work or self-employment at least once in every rolling 12-month period from the date that they first worked or were self-employed in the UK in 2020.

There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, frontier workers who temporarily have to stop working due to a change in circumstances (e.g. illness, an accident, maternity or paternity leave, childbirth, vocational training or involuntary unemployment) may still have 'retained status' and therefore qualify for a permit. There are also exceptions if someone has not worked in the UK during certain periods when they otherwise would have due to COVID-19. 

Irish citizens working in the UK do not need to apply for a permit and can continue working in the UK from 2021.

How much does a frontier worker permit cost?

Applications are free. This is a significant advantage compared to other applications made through the new points-based immigration system. In addition to there being no visa fees to pay, the employer is not required to pay the immigration skills charge (usually £1,000 per year of the visa) and the individual does not require to pay the immigration health surcharge.

How long will the frontier worker permit be valid for?

It will be valid for 5 years normally (2 years if they have 'retained status') and will be renewable indefinitely provided that the applicant continues to be a frontier worker. However, it will not provide a route to settlement in the UK.

What is the deadline for employees to apply?

Frontier workers who wish to come to the UK to work from 1 July 2021, should apply as soon as possible. They will require a valid permit, as well as their passport, to work in the UK from 1 July 2021. Until 30 June 2021, they will still be able to enter the UK using their passport and they will not require any further evidence of their right to work.

Individuals can apply online from inside or outside the UK. Supporting documents are likely to be required including paperwork from the employer.

Permits can be renewed indefinitely provided that the individual continues to meet the definition of a frontier worker.

What about those who want to commence frontier working from 1 January 2021?

From 1 January 2021, non-British, non-Irish workers who wish to begin employment in the UK whilst remaining resident outside the UK will need to apply through one of the visa routes available in the UK's points-based immigration system. For example, sponsorship through the Skilled Worker route or one of the other routes available.

Additional information on the new points based system can be found here

If you have any queries about any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact Elaine McIlroy, or a member of the Employment & Immigration team.