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FAQs on migrant workers

Last updated: 01 April 2022

FAQs on migrant workers

What is the definition of a migrant worker?

A migrant worker refers to a person who travels to another country for work. Migrant worker is a technical term and is not offensive.


What are the benefits of employing migrant workers?

Treasury figures show that inward migration adds about 10% to economic growth each year. The Bank of England has also welcomed the effect migrant labour has had on pay settlements by stopping them from picking up more sharply in response to recent higher inflation. In fact a recent survey by the British Chamber of Commerce show the reasons for employing migrant workers are often that they are better that the British workforce. The survey found that a quarter of firms employed migrants because there was a shortage of local candidates with the required skills and that over 23% thought migrants had a better work ethic.


Which are European countries?

Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.


Which are European Economic Area countries?

The EEA consists of EU Countries plus some others: EU Countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In addition, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein are members of the EEA. Switzerland is not a member of the EEA, but since 1 June 2002, Swiss nationals and their families benefit from similar rights to EEA nationals on freedom of movement and work.


Which are A2 countries?

These are Bulgaria and Romania. They became members of the European Union with effect from 1 January 2007. Workers from these countries do not have the same rights to work in the UK as other and must have authorization from the Home Office before starting work.


Which are A8 countries?

These are 8 of the ten new countries which joined the European Union and the European Economic Association on 1 May 2004. The A8 countries are Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Workers from these countries need to register if they want to work in the UK. For genuine workers from these countries there is no problem with registration and the vast majority is keen to register.


Which European migrant workers need registering to work in the UK?

Those European workers who are from the A8 countries. That is workers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.


What is the Workers Registration scheme?

This scheme has been set-up by the Government to monitor the participation in the UK labour market of workers from eight of the ten countries that joined the EEA on 1 May 2004. These countries, which include Poland and the Czech Republic, are known as the A8 countries. If you employ someone from an A8 country you have to ensure they are registered under the scheme. Registration is generally not a problem.


How do I register someone under the Workers Registration scheme?

You can take on a worker before they register, but the worker must apply to register with the Home Office within one month of starting work. As the employer you must provide your worker with evidence of employment – either a letter or a contract so they can send this to the Home Office. In addition you must take a copy of their registration application and retain this until you receive notification from the Home Office that this worker has been registered. Even after the worker has been successfully registered, you should retain the copy of the registration certificate the Home Office sends you.


Which European migrant workers need authorisation to work in the UK?

Authorisation is different from registration. Workers from Romania and Bulgaria must get authorisation from the Home Office before they start to work in the UK.


What authorisation documents must Romanians and Bulgarians show to work in the UK?

You cannot employ a Romanian or Bulgarian before the correct paperwork is fully in place and you have taken copies of the original documents. It is your job as an employer to check whether a Romanian or Bulgarian worker needs to be authorized or is exempt to keep copies of such documentation. So, in addition to carrying out the checks outlined for A8 workers above, Romanian and Bulgarians workers must also provide either:

  • Their valid accession worker authorization document. (See below.)
  • a valid exemption registration document

An accession worker authorization document can in fact be one of three documents. It is

  • A document issued before 1 January 2007 that grants Leave to Enter or Remain in the UK and entitles that person to do the work that you are offering, for example, a work permit.
  • a seasonal agricultural work document
  • an accession worker card

An accession worker card provides authorization from the Home Office for the holder to start working for you. The card will also set out any conditions on their employment.

If a work permit was obtained after 1 January 2007, the employee will also need to apply for an accession work card before they can start work, or they may show you an original:

  • A blue authorization certificate showing full access to UK labour market
  • A yellow authorization certificate yellow confirming person is here as a student and has permission to work for 20 hours a week
  • A UK residence permit showing that a person has leave to remain and has permission to work that has not expired
  • An indefinite leave to enter or remain endorsement in their passport
  • A no time limit stamp in their passport


What documents are unacceptable?

Not all documents are acceptable. For example a Home Office Standard Acknowledgement letter or Immigration Service Letter which states an asylum seeker can work is not acceptable. Other unacceptable documents include a letter issued by the Home Office stating that the holder is a British citizen, or a passport describing the holder as a British Dependent Territories citizen which states the holder has a connection with Gibralta, a short birth certificate issued in the UK which does not have details of one of the holder’s parents, adoption certificates, cards or certificates issued by HMRC under the Construction Industry Scheme, temporary National Insurance numbers beginning with TN or any number which ends with the letters from E to Z inclusive. Also unacceptable are driving licenses or utility bills and bank statements. And of course all documents that are allowed must be original and genuine.


Which Romanian and Bulgarian migrant workers are exempt?

The Home Office will issue registration certificates to eligible A2 nationals, if satisfied that the applicant is actively seeking employment in the UK and is highly skilled. If they are exempt from this they will have been given a registration certificate that states they have unconditional access to the UK labour market. In reality the only exemptions are a small group of highly skilled people, plus a certain number of agricultural workers (known as Seasonal Agricultural Workers (SAWS) and the self employed.

Anyone who says they are exempt from registering still need to show full documentary evidence of this so you have a statutory defense from conviction for employing an unregistered A2 worker.


What are the penalties for employing unauthorised workers?

An employer will be liable to prosecution in the magistrate’s court and liable to a fine of up to £5000. If the fine is not paid the court can use bailiffs to seize goods or send the employer to prison. But early next year the Illegal Working Action Plan will come into force as part of a bigger government drive to tackle illegal immigration. Fines will be unlimited, there will be a big increase in the number of spot-checks on companies and employers may be liable for any unpaid taxes and social security payments, as well as the cost of repatriating the worker. Firms could also be barred from tendering for public sector contracts.


What is the Common Travel Area (CTA)?

Citizens of the UK, Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Ireland are members of the Common Travel Area (CTA) and have no immigration controls placed upon them whilst living and working in the UK. You can employ people from these areas without restriction as long as they prove their eligibility to work by showing either their passport which will state that the holder is a British citizen or an Irish citizen. Alternatively, they can show a combination of the following of an official document showing the permanent National Insurance Number and a birth certificate issued in: the Channel Islands; or the Isle of Man; or Ireland.


What is the Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme?

This scheme allows students aged 18 + from countries outside the EEA to take short-term casual work in the UK agricultural sector. From 2007, this scheme will be amended and applications will be limited to Romanian and Bulgarian nationals only.


How do I check documents?

It is your responsibility as an employer to check that all documents are original and examine them carefully. This includes inspecting photographs to see they look like the actual person being employed, checking for any expiry dates that would invalidate documents and checking stamps and endorsements (eg do the passport stamps allow the applicant to do the type of work you are offering?) Obviously check the same name is used on all documents and that the date of birth is consistent with the age of the applicant (can be tricky as appearances can be deceptive.)


Once I have initially checked a person’s documents, is there anything else I have to do during the course of the person’s employment?

You can obtain the statutory defense by using the government online checklist. Providing that you are satisfied that your prospective employee is entitled to take the job you are offering, no further checks need to be made during the course of that person’s employment to comply with section 8.


What paperwork must I keep?

Once satisfied the candidate’s documents are genuine you must keep copies either by photocopying or scanning the documents into your computer using secure software. Photocopies can be securely stored with personnel records, and scans of documents must be securely stored on secure media, such as a CD-R. Storage media should ensure that the information cannot be deleted, altered or overwritten once saved ie they must be an indelible record.

The original documents must be copied immediately – you are not allowed to keep the originals for more than one day. The following pages of passports or travel documents should be photocopied or scanned:

  • Front cover
  • Pages with personal details, including name, date of birth, nationality and document number
  • Page with photograph and signature
  • Page containing the valid, relevant UK Government stamp or endorsement

Other documents should be photocopied in their entirety.


How long must I keep paperwork?

These copied or scanned documents must then be kept securely on file, usually for a period of 3 years, starting from when the employment finishes. If you have seen, checked and copied the appropriate original documents, then you have established your statutory defense against prosecution.


What documents are unacceptable?

Certain documents, such as a Construction card or certificate issued by the Inland Revenue, a driver’s license or a short birth certificate are not acceptable. This is the full list:

  • A Home Office Standard Acknowledgement Letter or Immigration Service Letter (IS96W), which states that an asylum seeker can work in the United Kingdom. In this case advise the job applicant to call the Home Office on 0151 237 6375 for information about how they can apply for an Application Registration Card;
  • A letter issued by the Home Office stating that the holder is a British citizen
  • A passport describing the holder as a British Dependent Territories citizen which states that the holder has a connection with Gibraltar;
  • A short birth certificate issued in the United Kingdom, which does not have details of one of the holder’s parents;
  • Adoption certificates;
  • A card or certificate issued by the Inland Revenue under the Construction Industry Scheme;
  • A temporary National Insurance Number beginning with TN, or any number which ends with the letters from E to Z inclusive;
  • A driving license issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency;
  • A bill issued by a financial institution or utility organization.


What happens if I am given a forged document?

If in doubt, telephone the Employers’ Helpline on 0845 010 6677. Examples of correct documents and what they should look like can be viewed on the Working in the UK website.


What are the benefits of employing migrant workers?

Migrant workers are often highly skilled, generally work hard and have a good attitude. Many employers actively seek to employ migrant workers for the talents, strengths and diversity they bring to business.


What are the penalties for getting it wrong? What is my defence?

Your statutory ‘defence’ as an employer is the evidence that you put together to demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to ensure that your workforce are employed legally. This means you must show you have taken reasonable steps to ensure your workforce is employed legally. You must check and copy specified original documents and retaining copies should Immigration Services request them. Ideally use the online compliance tool on the employing migrant workers website and you will have your defence.


How can I make sure I get it right?

Read the articles in the Duport section to gain a clear insight of what is involved. Use the compliance tool on the employing migrant workers website to check you have obtained the correct documents and keep a copy of it. This will provide you with a defence in the case.


Where can I get more help? – This website is extremely useful. In particular it is easy to use the step by step online guide. Furthermore if you use complete your checks using the compliance tool, you can then use this as a statutory defense against prosecution in the event that you have unknowingly employed someone illegally. – Border and Immigration Agency Immigration advisory service

advice and support for migrant workers

As an employer you may want to point your migrant workers to the following areas.

The Citizens Advice Bureau offers support and advice on money, legal and other issues.

The Immigration Advisory Service is a non-governmental organization providing up to date information service on all aspects of migration.

Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion has guides to rights in and out of employment for all working age migrants.

Asylum Support has an extensive list of websites on asylum, migration, refugees and equality issues.

The Refugee Legal Centre provides a free advice and representation agency for refugees.

what is the Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland scheme?

A scheme whereby graduates from Scottish university are allowed to remain to work in the UK for up to 2 years following qualification at degree or higher degree level.

what is Highly Skilled Migrant Workers scheme?

This is an individual migration route for the most highly skilled migrants to come to the UK for work or self-employment opportunities.

what is the Science and Engineering Graduates scheme?

From the summer of 2004, selected graduates from UK institutions in the physical sciences, maths and engineering have been able to stay in the UK and look for work following their graduation under SEGS. Further details are available on

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