Migrant workers

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Key facts

  • To be entitled to work in the UK, a foreign national must provide you with the necessary documentation.
  • You should check any documentation provided to ensure, to the best of your ability, that those documents are genuine and that the potential employee is entitled to work in the UK.
  • Generally, to employ someone living outside the UK, including  the European Union:
    • they need to pass a points-based assessment before they are given permission to enter or remain in the United Kingdom
    • you need to have a sponsor licence from the Home Office.

Important note regarding right to work checks (March 2021)

Due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Government has temporarily adjusted right to work checks to make it easier for employers to carry them out. For more information see www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-right-to-work-checks.

From 1 September 2021, the temporary COVID-19 relaxation of the right to work checks will end and employers will have to go back to face to face and physical document checks as set out in the guidance.

 

Employers' responsibilities

It is important that you are aware of your responsibilities when employing foreign nationals. The legislation that applies to migrant workers is the UK Borders Act 2007. The Act covers all aspects of immigration, from asylum seekers through to permanent migration, including the right to work and study in the UK.

On the basis of this legislation, the Home Office develops and implements the UK’s immigration rules, which provide the detail as to how the Act is implemented. The rules are available online on the checking a job applicant's right to work pages on the Gov.uk website. These rules are updated on a regular basis, so it is worthwhile checking the site regularly for any changes relating to employing foreign workers.

If you employ, or plan to employ, people from outside the UK, you need to make sure that they have permission to work here before they start working for you.

Proof of entitlement to work in the UK

There are different types of documents that employers should check to ensure that their foreign employees are entitled to work in the UK. Employers who do not undertake these checks are liable to prosecution if they are found to be employing foreign nationals who are not entitled to work in the UK.

To be entitled to work in the UK, a foreign national must provide you with one of the following:

  • a passport showing that the holder, or a person named in the passport as the child of the holder, is a British citizen or a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies having the right of abode in the United Kingdom
  • a residence permit, registration certificate or document certifying or indicating permanent residence issued by the Home Office or the Border and Immigration Agency to a national of a European Economic Area country or Switzerland
  • a permanent residence card issued by the Home Office or the Border and Immigration Agency to the family member of a national of a European Economic Area country or Switzerland
  • a Biometric Immigration Document issued by the Border and Immigration Agency to the holder, which indicates that the person named in it is allowed to stay indefinitely in the United Kingdom, or has no time limit on their stay in the United Kingdom
  • a passport or other travel document endorsed to show that the holder is exempt from immigration control, is allowed to stay indefinitely in the United Kingdom, has the right of abode in the United Kingdom, or has no time limit on their stay in the United Kingdom
  • an Immigration Status Document, issued by the Home Office or the Border and Immigration Agency, with an endorsement indicating that the person named in it is allowed to stay indefinitely in the United Kingdom or has no time limit on their stay in the United Kingdom, when produced in combination with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance Number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer
  • a full birth certificate issued in the United Kingdom which includes the name(s) of at least one of the holder’s parents, when produced in combination with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance Number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer
  • a full adoption certificate issued in the United Kingdom, which includes the name(s) of at least one of the holder’s adoptive parents, when produced in combination with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance Number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer
  • a birth certificate issued in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or Ireland, when produced in combination with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance Number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer
  • an adoption certificate issued in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or Ireland, when produced in combination with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance Number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer
  • a certificate of registration or naturalisation as a British citizen, when produced in combination with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance Number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer
  • a letter issued by the Home Office or the Border and Immigration Agency to the holder which indicates that the person named in it is allowed to stay indefinitely in the United Kingdom, when produced in combination with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance Number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer
  • a document from the Home Office to show that the person has been granted ‘Settled’ or ‘Pre-Settled’ Status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

All the documents that potential employees provide must be originals – photocopies, printouts or other copies are not acceptable. The process of checking that a worker is entitled to work in the UK is outlined in more detail in the Home Office publication Prevention of Illegal Working.

EU Settlement Scheme

EU, EEA or Swiss nationals who started living in the UK prior to 1 January 2021 can apply to continue to live and work in the UK through the EU Settlement Scheme after 30 June 2021. The deadline for applications is 30 June 2021.

  • Applicants that have been living continuously in the UK for 5 years prior to 1 January 2021 will be granted ‘Settled Status’, which allows them to remain and work in the UK indefinitely.
  • Applicants that have not been living continuously in the UK for 5 years prior to 1 January 2021 will be granted ‘Pre-Settled Status’, which allows them to remain and work in the UK for a further five years, after which they can apply for ‘Settled Status’.

Note: EU nationals that are Irish citizens or already have indefinite leave to remain do not have to apply for the right to remain in the UK through the EU Settlement Scheme.

Checking employees' documentation

It is your responsibility to look carefully at the documents that candidates provide and to ensure that, to the best of your ability, these documents are genuine and that the potential employee is entitled to work in the UK.

Care should be taken over the following aspects of the documentation provided.

  • Photographs - does the person look like the photographs on their documents?
  • Date of birth - is the date consistent with the appearance of the candidate?
  • Expiry dates - are the documents still valid?
  • Stamps and endorsements - do the passport stamps allow your job applicant to do the type of work you are offering?
  • Name - is the same name used on all the documents?

When you have checked the candidate's documents and you are satisfied that they are genuine, you will need to save copies of them for your records either by photocopying or scanning the documents onto your computer.

The Public Register of Authentic Identification and Travel Documents Online (PRADO) can help you ascertain the authenticity of a document. 

Penalties for non-compliance

Penalties include:

  • civil penalties for employers who employ illegal migrant workers
  • a criminal offence for knowingly employing illegal migrant workers, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine
  • employers' continuing responsibility for checking the ongoing entitlement to work in the UK of migrant workers with a time-limited immigration status.

To avoid a civil penalty, you should check prospective employees' documents and undertake repeat document checks at least once a year for those employees who have limited leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom. 

Points-based migration system

The Government has introduced a points-based migration system for people living overseas wanting to live and work in the UK. Migrants need to pass a points-based assessment before they are given permission to enter or remain in the United Kingdom.

Under the points-based scheme, applicants are required to score 70 points.

To achieve the 70 points, the applicants must meet three mandatory requirements which provide 50 points:

 • they have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor

• the job offer is at the required skill level – RQF 3 or above (A-Level and equivalent)

 • they speak English to the required standard.

To gain the additional 20 points, the job offer must meet the applicable minimum salary threshold (£25,600, or the specific salary requirement for their occupation, known as the “going rate”).

Alternatively, the job offer may be as low as £20,480, provided that the applicant can gain 20 points by:

  • filling a job in an occupation where the Migration Advisory Committee has designated a skills shortage
  • having a PhD in a relevant subject
  • having a PhD in a STEM subject where they will be able to trade characteristics, such as their qualifications, against a lower salary to get the required number of points.

If the job offer is less than the minimum salary requirement, but no less than £20,480, an applicant may still be eligible if they have:

  • a job offer in a specific shortage occupation
  • a PhD relevant to the job
  • a PhD in a relevant STEM subject.

Characteristics

Mandatory/Tradeable

Points

Offer of job by approved sponsor Mandatory 20
Job at appropriate skill level Mandatory 20
Speaks English at required level Mandatory 10
Salary of £20,480 to £23,039 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) Tradeable 0
Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) Tradeable 10
Salary of £25,600 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) Tradeable 20
Job in a shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee Tradeable 20
Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job Tradeable 10
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job Tradeable 20

Note: There are different salary rules for ‘new entrants’ at the start of their careers.

Sponsoring overseas workers

If you aim to employ someone from overseas, you have to have a sponsorship licence. Applications for a licence can be made online and the licence lasts for four years. The licence fee is £536 for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and £1,476 for businesses with over 50 employees. (The fee is per business rather than per employee). See the UK visa sponsorship for employers page on the Gov.uk website for more information.