Employing staff from overseas

It's important to check whether your employee has a right to work in the UK.

It's a criminal offence (punishable by a fine of up to £5,000) to employ a person without immigration authorisation to work in the UK.

An employer has a defence if it can prove that it saw an original or one of the following documents:

  • Any document containing the employee’s National Insurance number in a document issued by the Inland Revenue, Benefits Agency, Contributions Agency or Jobcentre Plus.
  • A passport stating the employee to be a British citizen having the right to live in the UK or having an entitlement to re-enter the UK.
  • A passport issued by, or on behalf of, the UK government containing a Certificate of Entitlement to live in the UK.
  • A certificate for Registration of Naturalisation as a British citizen.
  • A birth certificate issued in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.
  • A passport or national identity card which describes the employee as a National of the State issuing the documents, that State being a party to the European Economic Area Agreement.
  • A passport or other travel document or letter from the Home Office stating that the employee is exempt from immigration control or has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK, or has no time limit to stay.
  • A passport or other travel document or letter from the Home Office stating that the employee has current leave to enter or remain in the UK and is not prevented from taking the employment in question.
  • A UK residence permit held by a European National.
  • A passport or other travel document stating that the employee has a current right of residence in the UK by virtue of being a family member of a named European National in the UK.
  • A letter from the Home Office stating that the named person is a British citizen or has permission to take up employment.

Employers do not need to check the documentation of staff employed before 21 January 1997. 

It's important that employers adopt procedures which will protect them from prosecution but which also do not breach the race discrimination legislation.  

What about EU workers?

Members of the European Union and European Economic Area are known as European Nationals and they don't need a work permit; they have the right to come to the UK and look for work. 

Family members of European Nationals also have an automatic right to accompany such European Nationals to the UK. 

However, if they wish to stay in the UK for more than six months then they should get a residence permit.

Employees who don’t need a work permit

An employee that is subject to UK immigration control must have a work permit before they get a job in the UK, unless they belong to one of an exempt group of people. These include:

  • Religious ministers
  • Representatives of overseas newspapers, news agencies and broadcasting organisations
  • Sole representatives of overseas firms
  • Teachers and language assistants under approved exchange programmes
  • Employees of an overseas government or international organisation
  • Operational ground staff of overseas airlines
  • Seasonal workers at agricultural camps under approved schemes
  • Doctors and dentists in post-graduate training
  • Business visitors admitted by the Home Office
  • Commonwealth citizens with the right of abode and those with at least one grandparent born in the UK

This article has been adapted from Lawpack’s Employment Law Made Easy.

If you want more in-depth information – from an employment lawyer – about all aspects of employment law, then read our guide Employment Law Made Easy. Packed with tips and expert advice on complying with employment legislation.

Other information

External links

Published on: February 13, 2013

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