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Frontier Workers: The solution to your new staffing shortages?

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The UK’s departure from the EU has put an end to free movement. This has worsened pre-existing skills shortages in many sectors. And now in the run up to Christmas, seasonal labour shortages are starting to bite too.

But there may be a way to ease part of this problem. There’s a chance that some EU citizens who worked in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period of 31 December 2020 could still come to the UK to temporarily work for your organisation.

It’s all part of the Frontier Worker Permit Scheme. A frontier worker is classed as someone who lives in another country but regularly works in the UK even though they’re not resident here.

You may have previous workers on your books who worked for you in the run up to Christmas 2020 and then returned to their country of residence in the EEA (which includes EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

As we know at HR GO, having access to this kind of mobile workforce is particularly useful in sectors like construction which needs skilled workers for specific short-term contracts. It’s also vital for the agricultural sector which requires a lot more workers at certain times of the year. And delivery drivers for the retail sector are essential leading up to Christmas.

Right now, perhaps some of these cross-border workers could be eligible for a temporary permit to help ease the pressure in the run up to this Christmas too.

Who’s eligible for the Frontier Worker Permit Scheme?

Frontier workers must be EU or EEA nationals (the EEA includes EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). They also need to have started working in the UK by 31 December 2020.

One of these points must also apply to them:

  • They’ve lived in the UK for less than 180 days over the course of any 12-month period.
  • They returned to their country of residence once or more in the last six months, or twice in the last 12 months. (There are exceptional circumstances to this, including illness, accident, pregnancy or childbirth. Covid-19 travel restrictions could also be classed as a reason).

The Frontier Worker Permit Scheme doesn’t involve any sponsorship permits. So, there’s no need for your business to hold a sponsor license. And, applications are free to make.

Frontier workers needn’t meet the eligibility requirements under the Skilled Worker visa route. There are no minimum skill level requirements or salary thresholds either.

This scheme covers both employed and self-employed work. The work must be classed as ‘genuine and effective’, which means that it’s more substantial than just travelling to the UK for an interview or to sign a contract for example.

Permits are valid for five years for current frontier workers or two years for those who have ‘retained’ frontier worker status. If the worker still meets the requirements after that time, their permit can be extended indefinitely.

Frontier workers can work, rent homes and are able to access benefits and services including the NHS.

Checking for potential frontier workers

You may know of previous employees or self-employed workers who didn’t work for you in 2020 but did in a previous year. If there were any ‘exceptional reasons’ for them not working in the UK in 2020, they may still be able to join your team in the UK as a frontier worker.

However, giving immigration advice or helping with permit applications is a regulated activity in the UK.

That means if as an employer you help with permit applications it could be a criminal offence. But it’s fine to signpost people to government websites for help instead.

Making a difference to your business

The end of free movement is starting to have an impact on many businesses. And the Frontier Worker Permit Scheme could be a way to limit any short-term damage.

It’s unlikely to solve all your candidate shortage problems. But in uncertain times when many sectors are struggling to find the right people, every worker could make a difference for your business.

More information on the Frontier Worker scheme

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