Employing EU citizens in the UK

  • Recruitment
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

The UK is an extremely diverse society, but since Brexit, the rules for hiring EU citizens have changed. If you're looking to hire staff from the EU to make up part of your business, it's vital they have the correct visa or settled status.

If you choose to break the rules and hire illegal workers, you can potentially face up to five years imprisonment or an unlimited fine to pay.

In this guide, we'll discuss the rules surrounding hiring EU workers, the different ways you can do so, and what happens if you get it wrong.

What countries make up the European Union?

The European Union (EU) is made up of 27 countries that form part of an economic and political union. The countries work with each other to allow free movement of capital, goods, people and services between the member states (also known as the single market).

The following countries are part of the EU:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden.

The EU is different from the EEA, so it's important you understand the differences before looking to hire new employees from outside the UK.

What's the European Economic Area (EEA)?

The EEA is made up of all the above countries in the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland is not part of either the EU or the EEA but is part of the single market.

Can Irish citizens work in the UK?

Yes, citizens from Ireland have the same rights to work in the UK, meaning you can hire an Irish national following the same process you would if hiring someone from the UK.

Can EU, EEA and Swiss citizens work in the UK?

Following new rules in 2021, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens looking to work in the UK must have the correct permissions to do so. EU nationals must apply for a Skilled Worker Visa or be part of the EU settlement scheme. There are other types of visas and routes available to people, more information is available on the UK Government website.

An EU and EEA passport or national identity card is no longer accepted as valid proof that someone is allowed to work in the UK.

From January the 1st 2021 new points-based immigration system came into effect, and from 1st July 2021 - the right to Work checks will need to be carried out on EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. Until this date, their passport or national identity cards were valid proof.

You must check all job applicants' right to work status as well as their immigration status document before you hire workers as a legal requirement.

This can be done online via the checking service using a share code and their date of birth.

How do you employ EU citizens in the UK?

When employing EU citizens in the UK, there are different potential options available.

The following options are available:

  • Obtaining a Skilled Worker Visa through the skilled worker route.
  • Intra-Company Transfer.
  • Global talent route.
  • Graduate visa.

Following the freedom of movement between the UK and the EU no longer existing from 31st December 2021 the EU Settlement Scheme was brought in.

What is the EU Settlement Scheme?

The EU Settlement Scheme was set up to enable EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members living in the UK by 31 December 2020 to get the correct immigration status so they can continue to live, work and study.

Ensure you check with your existing EU employees if they applied for the scheme, it's illegal for them to be working for you if they didn't. If you are aware and allow them to work, you could be prosecuted.

If any of your employees or family members are in the process of applying, they may have been given a pre-settled status (meaning they can live and work for five years – however the Home Office online service will advise when a follow-up check needs to be carried out).

What is the points-based immigration system?

EU citizens moving to the UK to work must have the correct visa before doing so.

The point-based immigration system is a new immigration system and includes a set of requirements which EU nationals must meet before giving a UK skilled worker visa or another type of visa available.

An EU national must have at least 70 points to gain UK skilled workers status and be able to work.

Which can be made up of the following requirements:

  • Have a job offer from a Home Office-approved employer sponsor.
  • Be able to speak English at the required level.
  • The job offered must be at the required skill level of RQFC or above (which is the same as A-Level).
  • The job offer must be salaried at least £25,600.

There are different salary rules for some health or education jobs, as well as for jobs in a shortage occupation or have PhD relevant to the job.

As an employer, you legally need to obtain a sponsorship licence to hire most workers from outside the UK - it's crucial you understand what a sponsor licence to hire is before thinking about hiring EU workers.

What's a sponsor licence?

You must apply to the Home Office for a skilled sponsorship licence when you have EU citizens applying for a role at your company. This isn’t needed if they have status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

A sponsor licence allows you to bring in skilled and specialist workers to help your company grow.

You also need a licence for EEA and Swiss citizens but excluding Irish citizens. As well as those with settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme and anyone with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

It's important to remember that sponsoring someone doesn't guarantee they'll receive UK immigration status to work for you and that a national identity card and passport aren't valid proof.

How to apply for a sponsor licence

If you're thinking of becoming a licenced sponsor hire EU citizen, you need to follow the correct process:

  1. Check the eligibility of your business.
  2. Check if the job you're offering is suitable for sponsorship.
  3. Choose the correct licence (there are different ones for temporary or long-term workers). 
  4. Decide who out of your business will manage the sponsorship duties.
  5. Pay the fee.

Once you become an approved sponsor, you will receive a licence rating and can start the process of employing EU citizens for your business.

How does the Global Talent route work?

This route allows you to hire EU and non-EU citizens without having to become a licenced sponsor.

The talent route allows the most highly skilled people to work in the UK if they're endorsed by a UK body. Below are some examples:

  • Arts Council England.
  • The Royal Society, for Science and Medicine.
  • Tech Nation.
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering.

Alongside this, you can also hire EU citizens via the Graduate route.

How does the graduate route work?

The Graduate route allows you to hire an EU citizen for at least two years following the applicant completing a university course in the UK.

You don't need to obtain a licence to hire people via this route, and it's a good way to hire young workers with a passion for your business.

Employers can also hire employees using the Youth Mobility Scheme; however, this agreement is in place with ten countries - none of which are in the EU.

Can an EU citizen work remotely in the UK?

If you're hiring an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who will work fully remotely not in the UK, they won't require sponsorship or a visa. However, if they need to come to the UK for any reason, you may need to provide them with sponsorship.

What are the penalties for hiring illegal workers?

You have a legal requirement to ensure all your employees have pre-settled status, the correct visa, sponsorship or be part of the EU Settlement Scheme.

If you're found guilty of breaking immigration rules and employing illegal workers, you could be punished by a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker and a prison sentence of up to five years.

Home Office guidance states you should never discriminate against an EU, EEA, or Swiss citizen whilst at work. By doing so you may find a claim is made against you.

Get expert advice on employing EU citizens with Peninsula

With rules on immigration changing in the UK following Brexit - the rules for hiring employees from the EU have also changed. If you're hiring EU, EEA or Swiss citizens you need to ensure they have the correct visa before doing so.

Failure to stick with the rules can lead to serious prosecution with a prison sentence of up to five years.

Peninsula offers expert advice on hiring EU citizens you require. Our 24/7 HR advice is available 365 days a year.

Want to find out more? Book a free chat with one of our HR consultants. For further information, call 0800 051 3685.

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