Croatia joining the EU – How will this affect you as a Croatian national in terms of entry to the UK

Croatia will become a full member of the EU from 1 July 2013. This means that from this date, Croatian nationals will enjoy rights of free movement under EU law. However, as with previous accessions, the Treaty of Accession (2011) allows the existing Member States to depart from normal EU provisions concerning free movement rights in that they may apply transitional restrictions on the access to their labour markets to nationals of new EU member states. Transitional, because these restrictions may be applied for up to five years (a two year period followed by a review and if required a three year period) and for a further two years in the event of a serious labour market disturbance. In other words, the maximum time an existing EU State can apply such restrictions is seven (7) years. The UK Government applies transitional restrictions on labour market access to nationals of any future Member States of the European Union as a matter of course and will therefore also apply any such restrictions to nationals of Croatia when Croatia joins the EU.

Important: Please note that the contents of this page reflect the UK Government’s current intentions only. The detail of the policy will only be confirmed when the regulations are made. Nonetheless, this information will give you a good idea of what the changes will look like.

How will Croatia joining the EU affect you, as a Croatian national?

The restrictions mentioned above will apply to access to the UK labour market only. In other words, if you wish to visit the UK, as now, as a Croatian national you will not need a visa. From 1 July 2013, you will also no longer require a visa if you wish to study (even if your studies are for more than 6 months) or wish to live in the UK. If, however, you wish to come to the UK to work, you can come to the UK without a visa but you will require permission to work. You will need to obtain this permission, from UKBA, before you start to work. Work authorisation will only be granted if you meet the requirements for skilled economic migrants, as obtained for Tiers 2 and 5 of the Points-Based System. In other words, the same restrictions on work as these exist today continue to apply. The only difference is that you will no longer need to apply for a visa (Tier 2 or Tier 5) before coming to the UK. Instead, you will need to apply for work authorisation after your arrival in the UK and before you start to work. You would, however, still need to meet the same criteria as under Tier 2 or Tier 5.

Are there any exemptions to the requirement to obtain permission to work?

It is important to note that a definitive decision concerning these arrangements has not been made yet. Currently, the UK Government proposes to exempt the following category of workers:

If you are legally present in the UK on 1 July 2013 and are not subject to any restrictions on working. Example: you were granted settlement in the UK

–        If you are legally working in the UK on 1 July 2013 and have been legally working for an uninterrupted period of 12 months ending on that date;

–        If you work legally for an uninterrupted period of 12 months falling partly or wholly after 1 July 2013 (for example, you started your job six months prior to the date of accession but your contract is for an indefinite time);

–        If you are a dual national, for example, you are also a UK citizen or a citizen of another Member State whose nationals are not subject to similar restrictions (for example, you are a dual German/Croatian national);

–        If you are the spouse or civil partner of a national of the UK or the family member of an EEA national who has a right to reside in the UK, except where that EEA national is subject to work authorisation;

–        If you are posted to the UK by a business established on the territory of another Member State.

–        If you meet the criteria for a grant of leave to enter under the current Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category or the previous Tier 1 (Post Study) category of the Immigration Rules to be issued with a registration certificate confirming that the holder has free access to the labour market and is therefore exempt from the requirement to obtain work authorisation if they intend to take employment;

–        If you are studying here, as is the case under the current Immigration Rules, you will be able to do part-time work and vacation employment, and employment which forms part of a vocational course of study, without requiring work authorisation. However, you will need to obtain a registration certificate from the UK Border Agency confirming that you are exercising a Treaty right as a student;

–        If you are self-employed, you will not be subject to work authorisation because the terms of the Accession Treaty do not permit the UK to restrict the exercise of rights of free movement for the purposes of establishment. Those exercising a right to reside as a self-employed person (or as a self-sufficient person) will, however, be subject to work authorisation in the event that they go on to engage in work in an employed capacity.

In what circumstances will UKBA grant permission to work?

If you do not fall in the exempt categories outlined above (please note that this list is subject to change), you will need to obtain permission to work. The transitional restrictions after 1 July 2013 will provide Croatian nationals with the same degree of access to the labour market as they enjoyed under the Immigration Rules when the Treaty on Accession was signed. Therefore, currently (because, please remember, these are only plans at the moment), in the case of skilled and temporary workers (the equivalent of Tier 2 and Tier 5 workers), UK-based employers wishing to employ a Croatian national should continue to sponsor their employment through the existing arrangements under Tiers 2 and 5 of the Points Based System. Employers wishing to employ a Croatian national will therefore need to be licensed with the UK Border Agency as a Tier 2 or Tier 5 sponsor in the same way as they are now if they wish to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to a non-EEA worker under these arrangements. Croatian nationals will not, however, be subject to immigration control and will not therefore be required to apply for leave to enter or remain on the basis of the issuance of a Certificate of Sponsorship. In other words, you will not (not) need to apply for a visa prior to coming to the UK. Croatian nationals issued with a Certificate of Sponsorship by a licensed sponsor will instead be required to apply to the UK Border Agency for an accession worker registration certificate in the same way that Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are currently required to obtain a document where their employer has received authorisation of their employment under the pre-PBS work permit arrangements. Croatian nationals will also be able to apply for an accession worker registration certificate where they meet the criteria currently applied in respect of employment routes which currently sit outside the PBS (for example, under the existing provisions for employees of overseas businesses and domestic workers).

I do not fall in one of the exempt categories. But will I always require work permission, regardless of how long I live in the UK?

No. If you have completed an uninterrupted period of 12 months in authorised employment, you  will cease to be subject to the work authorisation requirement and will be entitled (but not required), at that point, to apply for a registration certificate confirming that you have free access to the labour market. In other words, once you have completed an interrupted period of 12 months in UKBA authorised employment, you will no longer need permission to work and will be able to work without an accession worker registration certificate.

Will the cooling off period of the Tier 2 skilled migrant worker category apply to Croatian nationals?

No, it will not. The “cooling off period” for Tier 2 migrants means that any migrant under Tier 2 whose leave expires whilst they are not in the UK, cannot apply for permission to come to the UK again under any Tier 2 category for 12 months after the date their leave expired. Whilst Croatian skilled workers will be treated in line with Tier 2 Migrants, this requirement will not (not) apply to Croatian nationals.

What if I am issued with an accession worker registration certificate and change jobs?

Your UKBA work permission will specify the employment for which work authorisation has been granted and will remain valid for as long as the holder remains in that employment. If you wish to change your job, you will need to apply for a new certificate.

How long will it take before I will get this work permission?

This will be similar to the issuance of documents under the restrictions applied to workers from Bulgaria and Romania: to deal with 95% of applications within six months. The UK Border Agency is, however, currently undertaking a review of all service standards across its temporary migration operations and, as part of this work, service standards for processing applications under transitional restrictions will be reviewed.

What if I am still overseas and have been offered a job? Can I start up the process to obtain work permission before I come to the UK?

Yes, you will be able to. If you require an accession worker registration card and you have been offered a job before you come to the UK, you can apply for the document from outside the UK.

Will the UK’s quota based schemes, i.e. the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme and the Sectors Based Scheme be open to Croatian nationals after the Accession?

The Government does not currently intend to provide Croatian nationals with access to the quota-based schemes under which Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are currently permitted to engage in work at lower skill levels.

Will my family members be able to join me in the UK?

Yes, they will. If they are also Croatian nationals, they will also enjoy a right to free movement and can join you in the UK. If you are working in the UK and have obtained permission to work, your family members will not themselves be subject to the work authorisation requirement should they also wish to work. This mirrors the position under the Immigration Rules where the dependants of those admitted for the purpose of work are generally granted leave to remain on conditions which do not restrict employment. Your family members will not therefore require an accession worker registration card to work. If your family members are not EEA nationals, they will also be able to join you in the UK. They will need to apply for EEA Family Permits prior to coming to the UK. The EEA Family Permit will also allow them to work freely, without permission to work being required should they wish to work in the UK.

Source: UKBA website “Accession of Croatia to the European Union”, which can be found here.

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