In focus: Common Travel Area and Employee Mobility

Nov 04, 2020

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a long-standing arrangement between the UK and Ireland that ensures the rights of UK and Irish citizens to move freely between, and reside in either jurisdiction, and enjoy the right to work and study, and associated rights and privileges. This will not change post Brexit. However, if you are an EU citizen wishing to work in the UK or a UK employer looking to hire an EU citizen, you are not covered by the CTA so you might need to take action before the end of the year.

Reaffirming commitment to the CTA

The Government of Ireland and the UK government have signed a Memorandum of Understanding‌, reaffirming their commitment to maintaining the CTA regardless of the Brexit outcome. 

For UK or Irish citizens working/residing in UK or Ireland

If you are a UK or Irish citizen, you can work in either country, including on a self-employed basis, without any additional permissions required.

There are an estimated 23,000 to 30,000 cross border workers who live in one part of the island of Ireland and work in the other.

Under the CTA, all existing arrangements regarding Social Insurance entitlements will be maintained in Ireland and the UK. This means that Irish citizens living in Ireland maintain the right to benefit from Social Insurance contributions made when working in the UK and to access Social Insurance payments if living in the UK and vice versa.

Irish and UK citizens can continue to travel freely for work or otherwise between the UK and Ireland in the same manner as before.  There are no requirements for passport controls and there will be no change to this as a result of Brexit.

Employee mobility post Brexit

For EU citizens working/residing in the UK

The freedom of movement of people between the EU and UK will end on 31 December 2020. The issue of employee mobility and access to labour is more important than ever for maintaining the integrity of the all-island economy, especially with regards to Northern Ireland’s ability to hire people from both Ireland and the rest of the UK. This is important for the Northern Ireland labour market and for its economic competitiveness.

While Irish nationals can continue to enter and work in the UK under the Common Travel Area agreement, this does not cover EU nationals living in Ireland and travelling across the border. Under the new UK immigration system that is to come into effect on 1 January 2021, both EU and non-EU nationals will be treated equally.

Employers in Northern Ireland in particular should take measures to reduce the risk of labour shortages, such as ensuring that employees from EU Member States other than Ireland are aware of, and encouraged to apply for, the EU Settlement Scheme.

Employers should take steps to prepare for the post-Brexit immigration system including: verifying qualifications, considering the requirements under the new points-based system and availing of any possible temporary transitional immigration schemes which may assist.

For businesses in the UK hiring from the EU

Regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations, from 1 January 2021 there will be guaranteed changes for businesses hiring in the UK:

  • From 1 January 2021, a new ‘points-based’ immigration system will replace the current rules for workers from outside the UK.
  • Employers will need to be a licensed sponsor to hire eligible workers from outside the UK, including EEA, EU and Swiss Citizens. This normally takes 8 weeks and fees apply. Check your business is eligible and read the accompanying sponsorship guidance.
  • New job, salary and language requirements will apply to anyone you want to hire from outside the UK. Check that the people you want to hire will meet the requirements for coming to the UK for work.

The new system will not apply to hiring Irish citizens, or EU citizens already living and working in the UK who are eligible under the EU Settlement Scheme.