In the UK, it’s the job of an employer to check that the people who are working for them are legally entitled to do so. If employers are caught with illegal workers in their business, they could face fines of up to £10,000 per worker. At first, it might seem quite simple to establish who is here legally, and who is not. But is it really as simple as that?


EU Nationals

In the case of workers from the European Union, the situation is fairly straightforward. Anyone with a UK passport, or who is a national of any of the European Union countries is legally allowed to live and work in the UK without restriction. Employers can ask to see originals of identity cards or passports to establish nationality. Many will keep a photocopy for their records. If an employee is later found to have used forged documents, then the employer can demonstrate that they did all they could to establish nationality – they aren’t expected to be forgery experts. This situation could all change in March 2019 when the UK leaves the European Union, so employers who take on a large number of people from the EU should be alert for any new guidance from the Home Office.


Rest of the World

The situation is trickier when it comes to looking at people who have come to the UK from the rest of the world. People from non-EU countries don’t have the automatic right to be in the UK, or work here. The simplest scenario is that your prospective employee has a certificate of naturalisation as a British citizen, conferring right to work. Most people don’t have this though, and you’ll need to ask to see their passport.

The Home Office issues a wide range of different visas depending on why the applicant has come to the UK. As an employer you’re not expected to be up to speed with all the different visas and why they are issued – you just need to look for official stamps in their passport giving permission to be in the UK and more importantly, the right to work. The situation is complicated further in that people from other countries in the Commonwealth may still have the right to work, even though it’s not explicitly stated in their passport. Luckily, the Home Office runs a Sponsorship, Employer and Education helpline during office hours so give them a call to discuss any circumstances you’re not sure about.



Wherever people come from, students have the right to work in the UK for up to 20 hours a week while they’re studying. Students will have a student visa in their passport, so employers should take a copy of that page in their passport as well as the information page. Students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week but exceeding that won’t result in fines for the employer. It may however have implications for the student who runs the risk of deportation.