How to apply for the frontier worker permit

Blogs 23 Nov 2022

Since 1 July 2021, the frontier worker permit has been a requirement for those who work in the UK but live primarily abroad. Find out who might need a permit and how to apply with our guide.

Since free movement ended, new rules were introduced regarding immigration and working in the UK. If you employ someone who is primarily resident overseas but works in the UK, you should consider whether they need a frontier worker permit to continue working in the UK.

What is a frontier worker?

A frontier worker is someone who works in the UK but primarily lives overseas. If your employee was a frontier worker on or before 31 December 2020, they were able to use their passport or national identity card to travel to the UK and work until 30 June 2021. Since 1 July 2021, a new frontier worker permit is required by those who work in the UK.

What is a frontier worker permit?

The frontier worker permit allows workers to enter the UK and show their right to work, rent and access benefits and services where eligible, including NHS healthcare services. The permit applies to cross-border workers who aren’t a UK resident and who may not be eligible for the EU settlement scheme.

Businesses in industries such as construction will be able to allow employees to work in the UK on a temporary basis, for example to work on a specific contract.

Read the full guidance on considering applications from frontier workers.

Who can apply for the permit?

To be eligible, all of the following must apply:

  • you’re from the EU, EEA or Switzerland
  •  you are not primarily resident in the UK
  • you must have worked or been engaged in self-employment at least once in the 12 months before 31 December 2020
  • you must have continued to come to the UK for the purpose of work or self-employment at least once in every rolling 12-month period from your first instance of work or self-employment in the UK in 2020

You may also be able to apply as a retained worker or self-employed person in the UK.

Irish citizens won’t need to apply as they will be covered by the Common Travel Area arrangements.

Does this apply to the self-employed?

Yes, it applies to employed and self-employed workers. As long as the work is considered ‘genuine and effective’ – more than just an interview or signing a contract, for example - then you can apply for the frontier worker permit.

The Home Office offers further guidance on what counts as ‘genuine and effective’ work.

What does ‘not primarily resident in the UK’ mean?

You may be eligible if:

  • you’ve spent less than 180 days in total in the UK over the course of any 12-month period
  • in the 12-month period, you returned to the country you live once every six months or twice in the 12-month period.

What does ‘retained status’ mean?

You may still be considered a worker or self-employed person where you have temporarily stopped working in the UK so long as you can provide evidence that you have previously carried out ‘genuine and effective’ work in the UK as a worker and are:

  • temporarily unable to work because of an illness or accident
  • temporarily unable to work because you were pregnant or had given birth
  • unable to come to the UK and work because of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • voluntarily unemployed and doing vocational training related to your last occupation
  • involuntarily unemployed, and either looking for work in the UK or doing vocational training

This is known as having ‘retained worker’ or ‘retained self-employed person’ status.

If you became involuntarily unemployed and are looking for work, you will keep your status for

  • 6 months if you worked in the UK for less than a year before becoming unemployed
  • as long as you continue to look for work, if you worked in the UK for a year or more before becoming unemployed.

How long does the permit last?

The permit will last for five years, or two years if you apply with retained status.

When you renew your permit, you will need to show that you continued to meet the eligibility requirements over the period of time since you last applied.

How to apply for the permit

Applications are free and can be made online from inside or outside the UK. However, you may need to pay to submit biometric information, like photographs or fingerprints.

You’ll be informed if you need to attend an appointment at a visa application centre.

Depending on your status, you may be asked for:

  • a valid passport or national identity card
  • employment contracts and payslips
  • evidence of contracts to work in the UK and copies of invoices for work carried out in the UK
  • if you have retained status you will be asked for evidence for which criteria you meet

What if the worker is not eligible?

If you’re hiring from outside the UK and the individual did not work in the UK before 1 January 2021, they may need to apply for a visa under the new immigration system. Check which type of visa is required on the government website. As an employer, you’ll also need a sponsor licence.

Hiring talent from abroad?

We’re here to help. FSB members can access specialist immigration support as well as guidance and advice from our trusted partner with clear, discounted fixed costs for FSB members, as well as employment guidance and advice from our 24/7 legal and HR helpline.  

To find out more about any of these services, please log in to your member dashboard and go to FSB Legal and Business Hub. You will see a dedicated section on immigration with guides and resources, and if needed, you can find out more about the fee-paying services too.

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