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Can EU Citizens Work in the U.K.? A Post-Brexit Guide for Employers

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The U.K.’s exit from the EU in 2020 reintroduced immigration regulations between the two regions, ending long-term, visa-free work opportunities for citizens of both locales. Today, any EU citizen coming to the U.K. for work must have a valid work visa, and their British employer must have a visa sponsorship licence.

While some British companies hire EU talent remotely to forgo immigration procedures, this approach involves significant compliance risks, such as permanent establishment and misclassification.

Fortunately, hiring EU citizens post-Brexit isn’t as complicated as it sounds. This guide explains how U.K. companies can quickly and compliantly hire EU talent in today’s political landscape—remotely or by relocation.

Key takeaways:

  • EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens can visit the U.K. visa-free for up to six months for leisure or business-related activities
  • All EU citizens must obtain a valid U.K. work visa to work and reside in the U.K. for longer than six months, and their British employer must have a visa sponsorship licence
  • Employers must complete a right-to-work check for all prospective EU employees to determine if they can legally work in the U.K. and if any restrictions are in place
  • Employees residing outside of the U.K. don’t need a right-to-work check or U.K. employment visa to work remotely for a British company from abroad
  • British employers can hire remote EU employees by establishing a legal entity in their target market, hiring international contractors, or partnering with an employer of record (EOR)

Changes post Brexit

Before Brexit, EU and U.K. citizens could move freely between each respective locale, working and living long-term in either region without work visas or residence permits. This included Swiss citizens and individuals from the EEA countries of Lichtenstein, Iceland, and Norway. Before Brexit, both regions also enjoyed intra-EU non-tariff trade barriers.

Today, that is no longer the case. Since the U.K. left the EU, their trade relationship changed drastically, resulting in import and export declarations, documentary requirements, product standards, inspection requirements, and other regulatory formalities.

Both regions also abandoned their long-term visa-free travel policy and established standard immigration procedures, creating new regulatory obstacles for British companies hiring EU talent.

Today, Swiss, EEA, and EU citizens can still visit the U.K. visa-free for up to six months for tourism and business-related activities, such as attending job interviews, events, and conferences; however, they must acquire a visa to live and work there long-term.

Remember, the U.K. includes England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland—individuals from these countries can still move freely about the U.K. for work and leisure for an unlimited period.

How can EU citizens work in the U.K.?

European citizens can work in the U.K. by obtaining a British work visa. To acquire a British work visa, EU citizens must have a qualifying job offer from a U.K. employer and apply at a local British consulate in their country of residence.

Before June 30, 2021, EU citizens could also obtain the right to work in the U.K. via the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). The EUSS helped EU citizens residing and working in the U.K. before Brexit acquire the necessary documentation to legally continue their residence after the transition.

We discuss both routes in detail below.

Obtaining the appropriate work visa

Today, most EU nationals who want to live and work in the U.K. for more than six months must apply for an appropriate work visa. In most cases, this will be a Skilled Worker visa. However, other visa options include the Intra-company Transfer visa (ITC), family member visa, and Global Talent visa.

To qualify for a Skilled Worker visa, applicants must submit the following documents to their local British consulate:

  • A job offer from a qualifying U.K.-based employer guaranteeing a minimum salary level
  • Proof of appropriate skills for the job
  • Proof of English-speaking proficiency at B1 level or higher

Employers must also acquire a visa sponsorship licence from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). We discuss the immigration requirements for employers and employees in greater detail later on.

Applying under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)

The EUSS was established for individuals residing and working in the U.K. before Brexit and those who arrived during the Brexit transition. The EUSS allowed them to establish their qualified post-Brexit work status and remain working and living in the U.K. legally after the transition.

Applying for EUSS was free and involved a three-step online process. Successful applicants received settled or pre-settled status, depending on how long they had lived in the U.K. before applying. Both statuses granted long-term work permission in the U.K.

Acquiring EUSS status gave individuals the following rights:

  • To work in the U.K.
  • To access the National Health Service (NHS)
  • To study in the U.K.
  • To access public funds, such as benefits and pensions
  • To freely travel in and out of the U.K.

The EUSS route was available to anyone who arrived in the U.K. for long-term work before December 31, 2020—the end of the Brexit transition. Many European citizens working in the U.K. today received EUSS status during this time and have continued working there legally since.

The EUSS application period ended on June 30, 2021. Applying via this program today isn’t possible, except in rare circumstances.  

Considerations for U.K. employers hiring EU citizens

Before hiring European talent, British employers should familiarise themselves with key aspects of the immigration process, including right-to-work checks and document requirements.

We discuss each of these in detail below. 

Right-to-work checks

Right-to-work checks are post-Brexit measures employers must conduct to ensure new hires have the right to work in the U.K. Employers must perform these checks before any individual begins employment.

The results of the check determine if the individual already has legal permission to work in the U.K. or if they must apply for a work visa. For example, the right-to-work check will reveal if an individual has EUSS settled status, a work visa they acquired from a current U.K. employer, indefinite leave status, or asylum status. If none of these apply, the individual must apply for a visa.

Employers can check an individual’s right-to-work status using their share code or immigration documents.

All applicants receive a share code when applying for a work visa, and anyone with a biometric residence card also has a share code. Simply submit the share code to the federal government’s online right-to-work portal to determine an individual's work rights and restrictions.

A prospective employee must have one of the following documents to check their right-to-work status without a share code:

  • A current passport with a Home Office ‘endorsement’ in it, such as a stamp or vignette
  • An immigration status document, usually for refugees and individuals with humanitarian protection or discretionary leave
  • An application registration card for asylum

Checking an individual’s right-to-work status is critical for ensuring compliance when hiring and relocating EU talent to the U.K.—employers can receive up to five years of jail time and an unlimited fine if they hire someone without the right to work.

U.K. immigration requirements

If the results of a right-to-work check reveal that a new hire doesn’t have the right to legally work in the U.K., in most cases the individual has to apply for a work visa.

After exiting the EU, the British government implemented a points-based immigration system for EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens. This system prioritizes skills and talent over a person’s country of origin, limiting qualifying applicants to those who meet specific criteria.

Consider the Skilled Worker visa, for instance. An individual needs 70 points to qualify for this visa, 50 of which must come from the applicant’s skill level, English language capabilities, and having a job offer from an approved sponsor.

However, some characteristics are tradeable—for example, holding a PhD in a relevant field can offset a point deficiency due to a low salary. If your prospective employee meets the 70-point minimum, they may apply for a Skilled Worker visa at a British consulate in their home country.

The list of required documents varies between U.K. work visas. For the Skilled Worker visa, individuals must submit the following:

  • Certificate of sponsorship reference number from their employer 
  • Proof of English language proficiency 
  • Valid passport 
  • Job title and annual salary
  • Job occupation code
  • Employer name and sponsor licence number

If the employer doesn’t have a visa sponsorship licence, they’ll have to apply for one online. The list of required documents varies widely, ranging from proof of a U.K. bank account to the registered name of the franchise agreement, depending on the organization type and the new hire’s visa route.  

Remember, some people don’t require visa sponsorship to live and work in the U.K., including Irish citizens, individuals with EUSS status, and those with indefinite leave status. Anyone who works remotely for your company from abroad also doesn’t need a U.K. work visa.

Can U.K. employers hire remote workers from the EU?

Yes, U.K. employers can hire remote workers from the EU. By establishing a legal entity in their prospective employee’s home country, hiring international contractors, or partnering with an employer of record (EOR), British businesses can engage top talent from across Europe while forgoing immigration procedures.

Still, U.K. companies that hire remote EU talent must be aware of various compliance risks, such as misclassification, incorrect payroll contributions, labour law variances, and permanent establishment regulations.

Each approach to international hiring involves different risk levels. We outline each approach in detail below, noting the advantages and disadvantages of each.  

Entity establishment

Establishing a legal business entity abroad is the traditional approach to hiring international talent and expanding your footprint beyond your domestic market.

This option reduces long-term hiring costs and gives you complete control over employment logistics, from hiring and onboarding to running global payroll and providing ongoing HR support to your international team.

However, entity establishment is time-consuming and costly, requiring a hefty up-front expenditure, ongoing maintenance costs, and investments in physical infrastructure. It also leaves you fully responsible for compliance with local employment and tax regulations, such as statutory payroll contributions.

If you envision long-term, stable growth in a particular country, and you plan on hiring a large team there, entity establishment is a wise approach. Otherwise, consider a leaner, more flexible option, such as hiring international contractors or partnering with an EOR.

Hiring international contractors

Engaging international contractors offers U.K. companies a flexible and budget-friendly approach to hiring talent across borders. By engaging EU contractors remotely, British businesses can source talent with specialized skills for short-term projects.

Hiring contractors saves you time and resources you would otherwise spend on hiring and paying a team of full-time employees. However, if you choose this route, be aware of your misclassification risk.

While worker classification regulations pose a risk in any market, even at home, this risk increases when employers try to navigate these regulations abroad.

To prevent employers from hiring contractors for cost savings while maintaining an employment relationship with them, regulators across Europe have established strict worker classification regulations. These laws vary widely between countries; however, they share one common characteristic—they are highly nuanced and leave ample room for interpretation.

Take the Netherlands, for instance. Simply maintaining a consistent payment schedule with Dutch contractors may constitute an employment relationship and subject your organization to fines, back pay, tax arrears, and injunctions.

Hiring international contractors can also trigger permanent establishment status and subject your company to corporate taxation in your target market. For instance, if you hire an agent in Spain to close contracts on your company’s behalf, you’ll have to pay corporate taxes there.

Despite its added flexibility and cost-savings, engaging international contractors involves unique risks. U.K. employers that choose this route must perform due diligence to avoid penalties. Consider enlisting a third-party legal expert with local experience to ensure compliance.

Partnering with an employer of record (EOR)

The safest and most flexible approach to hiring remote EU talent from the U.K. is to partner with an EOR.

An EOR is a third-party entity with global infrastructure and international legal expertise that streamlines hiring across borders while mitigating risk. As the legal employer of your supported workforce, an EOR partner allows you to hire talent worldwide without setting up legal entities in each of your target markets.

An EOR partner offers support at every stage of the employment process, from hiring and onboarding to running compliant global payroll and offering ongoing HR support to your international team. This option frees up your time and efforts, allowing you to build your dream team overseas without the added burden.

With on-the-ground expertise, an EOR offers customized solutions that serve your exact needs in each of your target markets.

For instance, an EOR can craft locally tailored benefits to ensure your company remains an attractive landing spot for top local talent. An EOR can also provide 24/7 HR support for your team in their native language, no matter their location.

By partnering with a British EOR, U.K. companies can remain agile, flexible, and on budget while building a distributed workforce across Europe.

Read more: 3 Options for U.K. Companies Hiring Staff Overseas

FAQ about EU citizens working in the U.K.

Below you can find answers to commonly asked questions about EU citizens working in the U.K.

Do EU citizens need a visa to work in the U.K.? 

Yes, EU citizens need visa sponsorship to work in the U.K. EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens can travel to the U.K. visa-free for six months for tourism or business-related purposes; however, they must apply for a work visa through the U.K.’s points-based immigration system to stay longer. 

How long can EU citizens stay in the U.K.?

EU citizens can stay and work in the U.K. without a visa for up to six months. During this time, they can engage in leisure or business activities, such as job interviews, events, and conferences. For stays longer than six months, EU citizens must apply for a work, study, or family visa. 

Hire EU citizens for your U.K. business with ease

Don’t let the Brexit shake-up prevent you from hiring EU citizens. Whether you want to hire and relocate EU talent to the U.K. or build a remote international workforce, Velocity Global can simplify your efforts.

Our EOR solution makes it easy for U.K. companies to hire, pay, and manage remote teams in over 185 countries, including the EU, EEA, and Switzerland, without undergoing entity establishment or worrying about violating local employment regulations.

As your global HR team, we handle everything from hiring, onboarding, immigration, and compliance, to running global payroll, administering global benefits, and offering ongoing HR support for your distributed team, no matter their location or language.

Should you seek relocation support, our team of local experts can streamline immigration procedures by securing necessary authorizations and ensuring ongoing compliance so you can move top EU talent to the U.K. without skipping a beat.

Contact Velocity Global today to learn how we can help you hire European talent with ease.

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