Under immigration law European nationals are nationals of countries which are in the European Economic Area (EEA) and EEA nationals who have the right to reside in the UK are known as qualified persons.
An EEA national has the right to live and work in the UK as described in Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. A registration certificate is a document issued to an EEA national who is a qualified person, which confirms their right of residence in the UK under European law. Registration is voluntary and there is no requirement to have a registration certificate to enter, live or work in the UK. To obtain a registration certificate, the client needs to apply in writing to the UK Borders Agency (UKBA). If they are working for an employer, the employer needs to confirm this.
There are special rules for nationals from some countries which acceded to the European Union (EU) on 1 May 2004, known as A8 countries and special rules for nationals from countries which acceded to the EU on 1 January 2007, known as A2 countries. Cyprus (but not the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) and Malta also became part of the EU on 1 May 2004 but nationals from these countries are not counted as A8 nationals. They have the same rights as other European nationals. The eight countries which acceded to the EU on 1 May 2004 and are known as the A8 countries are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The two countries which acceded to the EU on 1 January 2007 and are known as the A2 countries are Bulgaria and Romania.
The Government has announced that from 30 April 2011 that the Worker Registration Scheme will close. This means that nationals of the A8 countries will no longer be subject to the requirement to register their employment as a condition of working legally in the UK and will be able to work and reside in the UK on the same basis as nationals from other EU Member States. Prior to this date if an A8 national wanted to work in the UK for a month or longer they must have registered with the UKBA under the Worker Registration Scheme unless they were exempt, for example, self-employed people or people who had already worked legally in the UK for more than twelve months. An A8 national who was working but not registered was considered to be working unlawfully.
A2 nationals have limited rights to work in the UK. A2 nationals are broadly in the same position as they were before the countries acceded to the EU on 1 January 2007. This means that they can only work for an employer in the UK with prior authorisation. In order to get permission to work in the UK, a worker who is an A2 national needs to apply for an accession worker card from the UKBA. In order to do this the employer must usually obtain a work permit before the worker can apply for an accession worker card. A work permit is not required and the worker will be able to apply for an accession worker card without a work permit if the job is in one of certain categories, for example, domestic workers in a private household or teachers or language assistants. Once an A2 national has worked legally in the UK without interruption for a period of twelve months, they will no longer be subject to worker authorisation. This twelve-month period must be either entirely after 31 December 2006 or must include some period of time after that date. They can then apply for a registration certificate in the same way and under the same rules as any other European national. A2 nationals have no restrictions on their EEA rights to work as self-employed people and if self-employed, they do not have to be authorised. Most A2 students are permitted to work up to 20 hours a week without having to get separate worker authorisation.
Further information on rights to work is available from your local CAB.
Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice