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A guide to the "frontier worker" permit

 It has long been accepted that individuals who primarily live in one EU country may regularly work in another member state. Free movement, one of the four economic freedoms, enabled this working pattern to develop and flourish. So what are the options for EU workers now the UK has left the boundaries of free movement? One route catering for this group is the frontier worker permit.

As the end of 2020 drew closer, these existing frontier workers were assured of protection by the Withdrawal Agreement so that individuals working in the UK before 31 December 2020 could continue to do so once free movement ended. As a result – the Home Office created the frontier worker permit scheme.

The frontier worker permit covers those activities which are more involved and substantive than what is allowed as a business visitor (which is limited to expressly permitted activities such as attending a conference). For those affected, a frontier worker permit will be required to enter the UK to work from 1 July 2021. The permit allows a right to work, to rent accommodation and to access benefits/services/NHS healthcare.

Who is eligible?

Workers are likely be eligible for a permit if all of the following criteria apply.  They must:

  • Originate from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein
  • Live outside of the UK
  • Have worked in the UK by 31 December 2020
  • Have kept working in the UK at least once every 12 months since starting work in the UK

Workers must ideally show that they have been present in the UK for fewer than 180 days in a 12 month period (between 1 January 2020 and the date of application). If they have exceeded 180 days within 12 months, they must show they have returned to their country of residence at least once every six months. At the other end of the scale, workers can have visited the UK as little as once, for a one day visit, so long as it was before 31 December 2020.

Where travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have prevented an applicant from meeting the residency requirements, the Home Office will consider these as “exceptional circumstances” on a case by case basis and may still grant permits to homebound workers.

Family members of frontier workers can also obtain status in the UK but they should apply for an EU Settlement Scheme family permit.

Unlike the EU Settlement Scheme, the frontier worker permit will not lead to indefinite leave to remain.

What constitutes “work”?

Home Office guidance states that work or self-employment must be “genuine and effective” and not “marginal and ancillary” to the worker’s time in the UK. Work means more than a mere one-off task such as attending an interview or signing a contract. Attending meetings and negotiating deals would be categorised as visitor-type activities and are not considered “genuine and effective” work. That said, there has been no stipulation for the minimum number of hours worked.

Frontier workers will need to ensure that their employers are based in the UK (for example, having a UK office) and offer some form of payment or services for any work undertaken.

How to apply

The application is free of charge and must be made online from either inside or outside the UK. Like the EU Settlement Scheme, identities can be checked either by using the Home Office app, or by visiting a visa application centre.

Supporting evidence for the application should include: valid passport/ID card, work contract/employment letter for the UK, payslips/invoices.

If approved, the frontier worker permit will be valid for five years. Those applicants using the Home Office app will be granted digital permits but physical permits are also available.

These notes do not contain or constitute legal advice, and no reliance should be placed on them. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to speak to your usual contact at Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.

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