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Frontier Workers in the UK from 1st January 2021

When we think of Brexit and the potential impacts on travel, trade, and jobs, it is all too easy to forget about the many ‘frontier’ workers who live in the EU, European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland, and regularly commute to the UK. It is not just the lives and livelihoods of British people that will be affected, but also those of our continental neighbours who contribute positively to the UK economy. As we approach the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020, it is important that frontier workers understand their immigration position, and what will happen from 1st January 2021.

What is a Frontier Worker?

Frontier workers also called ‘cross-border workers’, live in one country and commute to work in another. The Home Office defines a frontier worker as an “‘EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who regularly commutes to the UK because they are employed or self-employed here but live elsewhere”. Commuting to the UK has become increasingly feasible in recent decades due to the low price of airfares and the ease of travel between the UK and mainland Europe. Rapid and efficient rail links and frequent cross-channel ferries have made it easier than ever to live in the EU and work for an employer in the UK. During the transition period, frontier workers have been able to continue to commute without any restriction, the question now is, will this continue once we reach 1st January 2021?

What is the Latest Home Office Guidance on Frontier Workers in the UK?

The latest UK government guidance [PM1] from the Home Office which was updated on 27th August 2021 states the following:

“Being a frontier worker depends on you having employment or self-employment in the UK. You can keep your frontier worker status if you are not working and one of the following applies:

  • you’re temporarily unable to work because of an illness or accident
  • you were working in the UK but are now involuntarily unemployed, and are looking for work in the UK
  • you’re in vocational training while involuntarily unemployed
  • you’re in vocational training while unemployed, and the training is related to the work you carried out in your previous work
  • you’re temporarily unable to work as a result of pregnancy or childbirth
  • you’re on maternity or paternity leave, and you will return to your previous employment, or find another job, at the end of this period

You’ll need to apply for a frontier worker permit to enter the UK as a frontier worker. We will update this page when more information is available.

Irish citizens do not need to do anything to continue working in the UK after 31 December 2020. Find out more about the rights of Irish citizens in the UK after Brexit”.

This confirms that frontier workers will need to apply to the Home Office for a ‘frontier worker permit’ which will enable them to continue working after 2020 provided even if they are currently not working for one of the reasons provided. It also specifies that Irish citizens commuting to the UK for work will not need to do anything to continue to do so.

It is notable that there is no qualification on the statement, “You’ll need to apply for a frontier worker permit to enter the UK as a frontier worker”. It, therefore, seems likely that this policy will apply if the UK secures a trade deal with the European Union at the end of 2020, or not. You will need to already be a cross-border frontier worker before the end of the transition period in order to secure a frontier worker permit.

It is also not clear whether the new frontier worker visa will lead to permanent settlement in the UK, how long it will be valid for, and the eligibility criteria which will need to be met.

Can Frontier Workers Apply Under the EU Settlement Scheme?

The EU Settlement Scheme is designed to give EU citizens currently living in the UK certainty they can reside in the UK even after the end of the Brexit transition period. There are two levels – pre-settled status, which is given to an EU citizen who has been living in the UK for less than five years, and settled status for EU citizens who have been living in the UK for five or more years. Settled status is effectively the same as indefinite leave to remain (ILR), whereas pre-settled status is limited to five years, and gives holders the additional time they need to gain full settled status.

The official Home Office advice is that frontier workers “do not need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme if you’re a ‘frontier worker”. But this does not mean they cannot.

It is possible for those regularly commuting to the UK for work to apply for pre-settled status, but this may be problematic when it comes to full settled status. This is because, in order to apply for settled status, you need to prove continuous residence (this is not required for pre-settled status) of having lived in the UK for six months in each of the five years in the UK. Some frontier workers may qualify under this route, but many will not. On this basis, if you do qualify for pre-settled status, and given that the application is free, it may be highly worthwhile making an application as this will provide you with a five-year permit for the UK.

Final Words

It is understandable that frontier workers with jobs and business interests in the UK will be anxious to know how they will be impacted from 1st January 2021. If you are concerned and unsure of the next steps to take, it is advisable to engage the services of immigration Solicitors who will be able to advise you.

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