Migrant workers – Working in the UK

How we can assist you to exercise and protect your rights while working in the UK as migrant worker?

Brandon Consultancy Immigration & Employment UK provides perspective clients –migrant workers with comprehensive advice in the area of employment rights, business, and human rights law.

We believe that migrants rights in the UK are unconditional and that our commitment to promoting equality and justice should govern and inform every aspect of our work

We can represent you at any level of your asylum or Human rights application in the UK.

When dealing with your request,  in particular we aim:

Who is a migrant worker?

This section describes the rights of migrant workers who want to work in the UK. Each category has different requirements, so you should read the requirements for your chosen category before you apply for a visa.

If you want to come to the UK to work, to set up a business and pursue your career, to invest, or to live and work as an entrepreneur, then you may wish to consider a work visa. This can lead to settlement.

working visa’ is a generic term and the correct type of visa depends on your age, English language ability, qualifications, previous and future salary, work experience and maintenance funds.

A migrant worker is someone who has come from abroad to work in the UK.

Migrant workers often work in hotels or restaurants, food processing, fruit picking and shellfish gathering, but also held highly skilled and important roles in big companies.

You may be working here legally, that is, you have permission from the UK immigration authorities (Home Office) to work in the UK, or you may be working here illegally, that is, you don’t have permission to work here. If you’re from a European Union country, you will almost certainly have permission to work in the UK, although you may have had to register on the Workers Registration scheme first. The rules are different if you come from Bulgaria or Romania.

It’s very important to know whether you have permission to work in the UK because this seriously affects your rights whilst you are here. If you’re working in the UK illegally, or aren’t sure whether you have permission to work here, you must get advice as soon as possible from an expert adviser. This is because if you’re a migrant worker and you try to sort out a problem at work, you’re more likely to be at risk than other workers of losing your job, any accommodation which goes with it and even your right to stay in the UK.

Your rights at work

This fact sheet is written for migrant workers who have the right to work in the UK. It gives information about some of your rights at work (employment rights). You have these rights because there are laws about how the person you work for (your employer) is allowed to treat you. Everyone who works in the UK has these rights from their first day of work, including people who work for an agency. There are things you can do about it if your employer breaks the law. The rights explained here might not be the only rights you have. To find out more, you should get advice (see below).

Restrictions on working

 Students on courses lasting 6 months or longer usually have their passports stamped with a ‘restriction’ on working.

Students with a ‘restriction’ on working:

are automatically allowed to work while studying in the UK, for a maximum 20 hours a week during term time

are permitted to work full-time during college vacations

are also allowed to do sandwich placements and short internships.

Students on short courses can also request to have a ‘restriction’ on working (otherwise they will have a ‘prohibition’ and will not be allowed to work at all).

Entering or Staying to Study

The immigration rules provide for children and adults to apply for leave to enter or remain in order to study in the United Kingdom.

 The right to a minimum wage

There are rules about how much an hour your employer must pay you. The very least they must pay you is an amount called the National Minimum Wage (NMW). This will depend on your age. If you are doing agricultural work, for example, crop or fruit picking, the rules about how much you should get are slightly different from other types of job.

Your employer must give you a pay-slip, telling you how much you have been paid. They must pay you and they must pay you all the money you are owed.

In March 2006, the Home Office published A points based system: making Migration Work for Britain. Over the course of 2008, and the beginning of 2009 the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) has introduced, via progressive statements of changes in the Immigration Rules, the entirety of the points based system. This has replaced the previous range of immigration routes for those seeking to enter the United Kingdom for employment, to invest in the UK, to set up in business or to study in the UK, although many of the criteria which used to be applicable to those routes continue to operate for qualification under the new system. With a few exceptions entry under the points based system leads to eligibility to apply for settlement and thereafter for UK nationality

You might find that your employer takes money from your wages for things like your accommodation, meals, training, the cost of travel to work, or the cost of travel to the UK. They might also be taking money from your wages to pay off the costs of arranging the job for you. There are rules about how much money your employer can take from your wages to pay for things like these, and there is a set amount of money below which your wages must not go. There is a maximum amount for accommodation which can be taken into account when calculating whether you are getting the NMW.

If your employer is taking money from your wages for accommodation or training, they can only do this if you have agreed to it in writing. But even if you have agreed to this, your employer is not allowed to pay you less than the NMW. If you think you aren’t being paid all the money you are owed, you should get advice.

If you think you are being paid less than the NMW, you can also report this to the National Minimum Wage Helpline on 0845 600 0678. You don’t have to give your name if you don’t want to. If you find it hard to speak English, you should ask an adviser or someone else you trust to speak to the Helpline for you.

The right to work a maximum number of hours a week

There are rules about the number of hours you are allowed to work in a week. You should not have to work more than 48 hours a week, unless you have agreed this with your employer in writing. You cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week. You also have the right to a break during the working day and days off during the week. There are special rules for people doing agricultural work. If you think you’re working longer hours than you should be, you should get advice (see below).

The right to paid holiday

You have the right to take paid holiday from work. If you work five days a week, you have the right to 28 days’ paid holiday a year. If you aren’t given holidays from work, or aren’t paid for your holidays, you should get advice

The right to health and safety protection

Your employer must make sure that the place where you work is safe for you to work in. This means that they must make sure you can do your job in a way which won’t injure you or make you ill, and that you understand the safety rules. If you think your workplace isn’t safe to work in, you should get advice.

The right to be protected from discrimination

All workers in the UK have the right to be protected from discrimination by their employer. This includes discrimination because of your race, sex, sexuality, disability, age, religion or belief.

The right to leave your job

You must be allowed to leave your job if you no longer want to work there. No one, including your employer, can stop you from doing this.

Some migrant workers are not allowed by the Home Office to find other work if they leave their job or are sacked. You may have to wait until the Home Office has sorted out your paperwork before you can get another job.

If you’ve left your job or are sacked and aren’t sure whether you are allowed to get another one, you should get advice (see below).

If you want to leave the UK before the date that you’ve agreed with the person you work for, you may find that you can’t change the date of travel on your plane ticket. This may happen if your travel to the UK has been paid by someone else such as an agency. If you are in this situation, you should get advice.

Your employer holds onto your passport

Your employer or employment agency is not allowed to hold onto your passport or any of your other official documents for any longer than a day. If your employer is holding onto your passport without your agreement, they could be breaking the law. If they won’t give your passport back to you when you ask for it, you should get advice.

Problems with employment agencies and gangmasters

You may have come to work in the UK because an employment agency found work for you. Sometimes employment agencies don’t tell you the truth about the work they have found for you. You may find that you are not being paid as much as you expected, or the working conditions are not as good as you were led to believe. If you think an employment agency hasn’t told you the truth about your job, you may be able to complain to the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI) by phoning 0845 955 5105.

However, you can only do this if the agency has offices in the UK. If the agency doesn’t have a UK office, there’s usually nothing you can do.

You may work in the UK for a gangmaster. A gangmaster is someone who organises work for people, for example, on farms, in hotels, restaurants, or hospitals or on building sites. If you are having problems with your gangmaster, you can report them to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) on 0845 602 5020 or by email to: intelligence@gla.gsi.gov.uk. But you should get advice first.

Illegal Working and Employers Civil Penalties

Unless a person is a British Citizen, settled person with permanent residence or a member of the EEA (European Economic Area) or Switzerland, they are likely to need permission to work in the UK. The Government has set measures to prevent illegal working in UK markets and there is a positive duty on the employer to ensure that they employ people through legal means.

On 3rd December 2010, the UK Border Agency published an updated version of their summary guidance for employers for the prevention of illegal working. The guidance explains what employers need to know about the law against illegal working and what is needed to comply with requirements. The guidance is intended to be a quick reference tool and should be read along with the comprehensive guidance which was updated on 2nd of November 2010.

It provides that employers can be imposed with fines where they employ people over 16 who are not allowed to work.

UKBA (UK Border Agency) routinely carries out enforcement and compliance checks at work places. Where they discover any illegal migrants working in the work place, they will issue the employer with a Notification of potential liability (NOPL). The UKBA civil penalty compliance team will then consider whether or not to issue a notification of liability (NOL) and a civil penalty on the employer. UK based employers are required by law to verify the immigration status of their employees.

They can do this by checking one of the following:

Alternatively, employers can contact UKBA (employer checking service) to determine the potential employee’s status or where for instance, the employee’s documents are with the Home Office. UKBA provides two lists, List A and List B which contain documents that the employer needs to check before hiring an employee. Depending on the employee’s situation, the employer may need to see a combination of documents from these lists and the documents must be originals.

The employer is required to check the validity of the document including

 Civil Penalties

UKBA assess the amount of the penalty the employer is liable to pay and this will depend on the nature of the circumstances and compliance by the employer. They may issue a warning letter or the maximum fine of £10,000 per worker. Lists of civil penalties issued on employers can be found on UKBA’s website.

Where an NOL and civil penalty is served upon the employer, they must within 28 days take the following action:

 Knowingly employing illegal migrants

 Employers can be convicted of a criminal offence under the 2006 Act if they knowingly permit illegal labour. They can be convicted of either

Compliance with legislation relating to prevention of illegal working

 Sponsor Licence

A Sponsor Licence enables a UK employer to sponsor skilled migrants to work for them in the UK under point based system. An employing entity which does not have a Sponsor Licence will be unable to sponsor migrant workers.

Tier 2 is the replacement to the work permit scheme and only employers with a Sponsor Licence, issued by the UK Border Agency upon application and approval, will be able to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to the prospective employee or employee in an overseas branch.

Civil Penalty Objection/Corporate Reputation Preservation

 A UK entity found to be employing migrant workers illegally may be subject to a civil penalty of up to £10,000 per employee and/or those who run the business may be subject to criminal prosecution. In addition, they may be named and shamed on the publicly available list of entities which have received a civil penalty.

As these entities may also have their Sponsor Licence withdrawn, the potential for damage to reputation for any entity which finds itself on that list is significant.

Any entity found to be employing a migrant worker illegally may have a defence if they can show that it carried out appropriate checks of the employee’s status document in the manner specified by the UK Border Agency. Employers should ensure that their HR function is trained to conduct the appropriate checks.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC)

Information on employment rights for migrant workers is available on the TUC’s website. It has been translated into a number of languages, including Hungarian, Czech, Lithuanian, Slovak, Polish and Spanish. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/international and go to the section on Migration. The TUC has also set up websites in other languages to support migrant workers in the UK. There is a website in Polish at www.pracawbrytanii.eu. There is a website in Portuguese, set up along with the Citizens Advice service and the Portuguese union CGTP at www.trabalharnoreinounido.org.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

DEFRA has information for agricultural workers in England and Wales on the Farming page of its website at www.defra.gov.uk/farm/working/employees/index.htm.

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)

BERR produces leaflets on employment rights for migrant workers in a number of different languages, including Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese. They are available at www.berr.gov.uk/employment/migrant-workers/index.html.

This section describes the immigration categories for non-European migrants who want to work in the UK. Each category has different requirements, so you should read the requirements for your chosen category before you apply for a visa.

Documents you need before you can work in the UK

To visit the UK you may need a visa. If you want to work here you may need a work permit. You may also have to register with the UK Home Office UK Border Agency (UKBA) while you are here.


If you are not a British citizen or a European Economic Area (EEA) citizen, or a Swiss national, you may need a visa before you can visit the UK.

You can apply for a visa at a British Overseas Mission in your own country. If you are approved, the visa will be put in your passport.

Having a visa does not always mean you can work in the UK. If the visa says ‘prohibited’ on it you will need a work permit to work in the UK.

Work permits

You don’t need a permit to work in the UK if you are any of the following:

If you are from another country you will need a work permit before you can work in the UK.

You can’t apply for a permit yourself – your employer (the person you work for) in the UK has to apply for you. How long your permit lasts depends on the work you do and the type of permit.

If you are a student

If you’re an international student you may be allowed to work here when you’re studying.

If you have a student visa you can work here:

If you do work, you can’t:

If you are not an EEA citizen or Swiss National but are highly skilled

If you are highly skilled but not an EEA citizen or a Swiss National and you want a permanent job in the UK you will need to apply under a points-based system. The points-based system for highly skilled migrants does not apply if you are applying for a temporary job.

If you are from Bulgaria or Romania

If you’re from Bulgaria or Romania you will usually need to get permission before you start work in the UK.

If you are self-employed you must contact HM Revenue & Customs immediately to register for tax purposes. There is a fine for late registration.

Working in the UK

Most of work-based categories are part of the UK’s points-based system for immigration.

If you want to visit the UK for a short time as a businessperson, sportsperson or entertainer, you may be able to come here as a visitor.

Most of our work-based categories are part of the UK’s points-based system for immigration.

If you want to visit the UK for a short time as a businessperson, sportsperson or entertainer, you may be able to come here as a visitor.

Investors, entrepreneurs, exceptionally talented people and recent graduates from UK universities can apply to enter or stay in the UK without needing a job offer – but you will need to pass a points-based assessment.

If you have been offered a skilled job in the UK and your prospective employer is willing to sponsor you, you can apply to come or remain here to do that job.

If an employer in the UK is willing to sponsor you, or if you are a national of a country that participates in the youth mobility scheme, you may be eligibleto come and work in the UK for a short period.

You can also apply to work in the UK as a domestic worker; as the sole representative of an overseas firm; or as a representative of an overseas newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation.

Turkish citizens can benefit from a European agreement with Turkey if they want to establish themselves in business in the UK, or if they are already working here legally.

If you are a Commonwealth citizen and at least one of your grandparents was born in the UK, you can apply to come here to work.

Working for yourself (self-employed)

If you work for yourself in the UK, or set up your own business in the UK, you are ‘self-employed’. You must register with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and pay your own tax and National Insurance.

Registering with HMRC

To register with HMRC, you first need to have a National Insurance number.

If you do not have a National Insurance number, please contact Jobcentre Plus on Tel 0845 600 0643 to arrange an Evidence of Identity interview.

When you register with HMRC they will use the information you provide to set up the right tax and National Insurance records for you. You’ll then receive a Unique Taxpayer Reference, which you need to keep in a safe place. You’ll need it when you complete your Self Assessment tax return and whenever you get in touch with HMRC. Follow the link below to find out how to register.

How to pay tax and National Insurance

If you work for yourself you pay tax by filling in a form called a Self Assessment tax return once a year to tell HMRC what you have earned.

You usually pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions to HMRC directly and Class 4 National Insurance contributions through Self Assessment by completing your tax return.

There are different types of tax return forms. If you are self-employed you always complete:

You may also have to fill in other pages, depending on your situation. HMRC uses the information on your tax return to work out your tax bill, or you can work it out yourself.

It is very important to keep records of what you have earned and what you have spent. HMRC might ask to see these records.

The easiest way to fill out a tax return is online because your tax is worked out for you automatically and you can select the pages you need. You can find out more about Self Assessment and the benefits of completing your tax return online by following the links below.

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