The United Kingdom’s New ‘Frontier Worker Permit’: Eligibility, Requirements, and the Application Process

From 1 July 2021, the UK government will require each frontier worker to hold a valid frontier worker permit, as well as a valid passport or national identity card, in order to enter the United Kingdom as a frontier worker. The frontier worker permit allows nationals of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein to continue coming to the United Kingdom to work whilst residing elsewhere. Irish citizens have a right to work and reside in the United Kingdom and thus are not required to apply for frontier worker permits, though they can do so if they so choose.

Frontier workers who were already working in the United Kingdom before 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020 may maintain their frontier worker status, but they are required to apply for permits in order to do so. The frontier worker permit is not available to frontier workers who arrived on or after 1 January 2021 or who did not work in the United Kingdom prior to 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020; instead, such workers—ineligible for the frontier worker permit—are now required to obtain work visas under the United Kingdom’s new points-based immigration system.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible for the permit, an applicant must:

  • be a national of the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein;
  • live outside the United Kingdom;
  • have worked in the United Kingdom at least once in the 12 months before 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020; and
  • have worked and kept working in the United Kingdom at least once every 12 months since the date the applicant commenced working in the United Kingdom.

There is no fee to apply for the permit, and applicants do not have to pay the immigration health surcharge. They may, however, have to pay to submit their biometric information (photographs or fingerprints). Successful applicants will be able to work, rent property, and access benefits and services (including the National Health Service) in the United Kingdom, so long as they meet the relevant requirements.

Living outside the United Kingdom

UK government guidance defines “living outside the UK” as being “not primarily resident in the UK immediately before 11pm GMT on 31 December 2020, and continu[ing] to not be primarily resident in the UK thereafter.”

“Not primarily resident in the UK” means having “spent less than 180 days in total in the UK over the course of any 12-month period.” However, frontier workers who have “been present in the UK for more than a total of 180 days in any relevant 12-month period or periods” could still be eligible, if in the 12-month period, they returned to the countries they live in at least either:

  • once every 6 months; or
  • twice in the 12-month period.

The guidance also suggests that the government will still consider frontier workers’ applications if there are “exceptional circumstances,” such as illnesses or accidents, under which they could not travel to their countries of residence during the 12-month period.

Frontier workers who have not worked in the United Kingdom during a 12-month period

Frontier workers who have not come to the United Kingdom to work during a 12-month period may still be eligible due to allowances that the government provides.

For example, a frontier worker who previously worked in the United Kingdom while living elsewhere before 11:00 p.m. (GMT) on 31 December 2020 may meet the requirements to “retain [his or her] worker status” if, during the 12-month period, he or she was:

  • temporarily unable to work because of an illness or accident;
  • temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy or having given birth;
  • involuntarily unemployed and either looking for work in the United Kingdom or doing vocational training;
  • voluntarily unemployed and doing vocational training related to the individual’s last occupation; or
  • unable to come to the United Kingdom and work because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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