Opening a new frontier… worker permit scheme

25 November 2020

As the UK goes through the disappointing process of raising barriers on entry to EEA nationals coming to the UK, an immigration category soon to emerge, that is separate to the EU Settlement Scheme, is the frontier worker visa.
Whilst the UK’s regulations on this category have been published, we await the government’s guidance to be released shortly for further details on how the category will operate.  The frontier worker permit application system should be launched on 10 December 2020 and from 1 July 2021 frontier workers will need to hold a permit when entering the UK.
The main features of the scheme are that an applicant must be:
an EEA national;
not primarily resident in the UK (i.e. living mainly in another country); and
working or self-employed in the UK (or has retained this status).
The category will not help those who wish to start working in the UK after 31 December 2020 – it is aimed at those who have established a work pattern as a ‘frontier worker’ before the end of the transitional period following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The route appears to be targeting international commuters, for example, from Dublin, Paris or Zurich, who regularly come to the UK for business – therefore a relatively small category of individuals. Acquiring frontier worker status provides more flexibility on the sources of payment and potential activities in the UK than those permitted under the visitor rules.
There are many questions to be answered regarding the details of the scheme, such as, how regularly do you need to work in the UK to qualify? What activities in the UK will constitute work to be eligible to apply? What kinds of documents are required to evidence that an applicant qualifies? Thorough guidance will be required to answer these questions conclusively.
If granted, a frontier worker visa is issued for five years for current workers and two years for those with retained status. There are obvious drawbacks to the category, including the lack of a route to indefinite leave to remain, but perhaps its most redeeming feature is that renewal applications can be made indefinitely.  Whereas those who obtain pre-settled status may reach the end of the road in five years’ time if they have high absences, meaning they would not qualify for settled status and will need to switch immigration category.
It appears likely that applicants will favour the certainty of applying under the EU Settlement Scheme if eligible, but the frontier worker visa might be of recourse to those, who for whatever reason, are not eligible under the EU Settlement Scheme.  Some applicants may choose to apply for both pre-settled status and a frontier worker permit.
If you would like to discuss the EU Settlement Scheme, frontier worker permit scheme or any other immigration matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the immigration team.

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