Employing EEA nationals

European map and EU stars

The majority of nationals from European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland can currently enter the UK without any restrictions. Employers should not however employ an individual on the basis of their claim to be a national from an EEA country, as not all EEA nationals can work in the UK without restrictions.

Employers should ask nationals from all EEA countries and Switzerland to prove their nationality by producing one of the documents, or combinations of documents, specified in the right to work checks standard document on our NHS Employment Check Standards web pages.

Immediate family members are also able to work freely in the UK while their adult EEA family member is legally residing and working here. Employers must check documentation to demonstrate this entitlement.

Since 1 June 2002, nationals from Switzerland and their family members have also had the same free movement and employment rights as EEA nationals.

Implications of the UK's departure from the European Union

The UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020, following the result of the EU referendum in June 2016. This has resulted in a number of questions around the implications for the service's valued EU workforce. Current arrangements around the recruitment of individuals from within the EU remain the same until the end of the transition period on 1 January 2021. From then, a new immigration system will apply; the government has shared a broad outline of this new immigration system having considered the Migration Advisory Committee's recommendations.

Staff who are currently in your workforce will be able to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to retain their rights to live and work in the UK until 30 June 2021, now that the UK has left the EU with an agreed withdrawal agreement. You can read more about the EU Settlement Scheme on our dedicated page.

You can also listen to our podcast where we discuss the impact of the EU referendum and what employers can do to best support their EU staff.

NHS Employers will publish news of any developments in this area as they arise and will make sure you have all the support and information you need throughout this process. Visit our Brexit and the NHS workforce section for further information and our frequently asked questions page. You can also register for updates from the Home Office by subscribing via the government's website.

Further information about employing EEA nationals

Click on the links below for further information.

Which countries are part of the EEA?

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria*, Croatia*, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania*, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

*See further information below regarding worker restrictions.

Croatian nationals

Croatia joined the EU and also became part of the EEA on 1 July 2013. Croatian nationals can now enter and live in the UK without permission under the Home Office Immigration Rules.

From 30 June 2018, Croatian national registration requirements ended, bringing their right to work in the UK in line with other EU citizens.

Bulgarian and Romanian nationals

From 1 January 2014 labour market restrictions on individuals from Bulgaria and Romania ended and they are no longer subject to Immigration and Worker Authorisation Regulations 2013. Nationals from Bulgaria and Romania are able to freely take up employment in the UK.  

Turkish nationals  

The European Community Association Agreement (ECAA) with Turkey provides Turkish nationals who are already legally employed in the UK with certain rights when they want to extend their stay. They can:

  • apply to extend their permission to stay in the UK after they have worked in the UK for one year so that they can continue to work for the same employer (if a job is available). 
  • change employers after they have worked in the UK for three years, provided they are continuing to work in the same occupation. 
  • have full access to the UK labour market and are free to work in any type of job for any employer after they have worked in the UK for a period of four years.

If an applicant is successful, UK Visas and Immigration will give them permission to stay as a Turkish ECAA worker and the individual will be issued with a vignette in their passport and receive a letter confirming their status.

Employers will be able to use this documentation to check a potential or existing employee's right to work in the UK. A Turkish ECAA worker visa does not give the individual an automatic right to apply for indefinite leave to remain and any application to UK Visas and Immigration for indefinite leave to remain will be rejected. The duration of leave granted to an individual will be between 12 and 36 months. At the end of this period, another application must be made if further leave to remain is required.

A Turkish worker will, however, be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain after they have legally resided in the UK for a period of ten years, or two to fourteen years of continuous residence of any legality.

Further information can be found on the UK Visas and Immigration pages of the GOV.UK website.  

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