Peter Gabriel once famously wrote the lyric "if looks could kill, they probably will in games without frontiers." I wonder what looks would be extended by Stormont or the Dáil to Home Secretary Priti Patel following the confirmed end of freedom of movement for EU nationals from 1 January 2021?

The Home Office has published new guidance on the position of frontier workers following the end of freedom of movement at the turn of next year. With the introduction of the new immigration system now confirmed into UK law, we now know that a new visa will be available at the beginning of next year, one aimed at cross-border or "frontier" workers.

Frontier workers are people who work in one country but live primarily in another. A frontier worker by nationality is an EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss citizen who is either employed or self-employed in the UK/NI but living elsewhere. Irish citizens do not need to do anything to continue working in the UK/NI from 1 January 2021 but can apply for a frontier worker permit if they wish.

Free movement laws enabled people working in the Republic of Ireland to freely travel and work in Northern Ireland. However, with Brexit this has left frontier workers who commute into Northern Ireland or the UK in a more precarious position.

Frontier working before 1 January 2021

Frontier workers will be able to keep their frontier worker status if working in the UK/NI by 31 December 2020 but will be required to apply for a frontier worker permit.

Retention of frontier worker status can be preserved if you've previously been a frontier worker and one of the following applies:

  • you're temporarily unable to work because of an illness or accident;
  • you were working in the UK but are now involuntarily unemployed, and are looking for work in the UK;
  • you're in vocational training while involuntarily unemployed;
  • you're in vocational training while unemployed, and the training is related to the work you carried out in your previous work;
  • you're temporarily unable to work as a result of pregnancy or childbirth;
  • you're on maternity or paternity leave, and you will return to your previous employment, or find another job, at the end of this period.

Frontier worker permit

Later this year, the government will launch a frontier worker permit scheme. A person will be able to apply if they have frontier worker status. Applications will be free. The application can be made from inside or outside the UK. From 1 July 2021, an applicant will need to hold a valid frontier worker permit, as well as a valid passport or national identity card, to enter the UK as a frontier worker.

Until 1 July 2021, the person can continue entering the UK/NI as a frontier worker using a valid passport or national identity card, but will have permission to apply for the frontier worker permit as soon as the scheme launches.

If admitted to the frontier worker scheme, the permit will be valid for 5 years for workers and 2 years for self-employed persons. If an individual no longer remains a frontier worker, they will be at risk of having the permit revoked and potentially removed from the UK.

Frontier working from 1 January 2021

From 1 January 2021, non-British, non-Irish workers who wish to begin employment in the UK/NI while remaining resident outside the UK will need to apply through the UK's points-based immigration system for a Skilled Worker visa.

The frontier worker permit does provide plenty of flexibility within the regulations to cover a whole host of working patterns. As these permits will only be available to those who start working in the UK before the end of the year, now is the time for cross-border workers to consider whether it might work for them. With Brexit imminent the clock is ticking.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Business and Private Immigration team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.