In focus: Cross-border workers

Nov 18, 2020

An estimated 23,000 to 30,000 cross-border workers live in one part of the island of Ireland and work in the other.  Thousands more cross the border to take children to school, visit family, buy groceries, attend sports events, and so on.  At the moment, this cross-border workforce know they have a right to employment, have their professional qualifications recognised, access healthcare, access social welfare and combine their social insurance contributions to claim a state pension.  Will Brexit change this?

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

This means that after Brexit, Irish and UK Citizens will be able to continue to travel freely between the UK and Ireland in the same manner as before.  There will be no requirements for passport controls when the border is crossed. 

Under the Common Travel Area arrangements, British citizens will be able to work in Ireland without an employment or residence permit, including on a self-employed basis, and vice versa.

Facts about the Common Travel Area

  • Applies only to Irish and British citizens.
  • Allows movement of people between Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
  • Provides the right to enter, live and work without need for special permission.
  • Ensures access to social welfare, healthcare, social housing, and education.
  • It is an arrangement in place since 1922 but it is not contained in legislation.

Common Rights

Under the Common Travel Area (CTA), Irish citizens and British citizens in each other’s states have the right to access social security benefits on the same basis as citizens of that state. This includes reciprocal arrangements for social insurance schemes, social assistance schemes and child benefit schemes.

Under the Common Travel Area, all existing arrangements regarding social insurance entitlements will be maintained in Ireland and the UK. Irish citizens living in Ireland will 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.

Under the Common Travel Area, Irish citizens and British citizens who live in, work in, or visit the other state have the right to access healthcare there, on the same basis as citizens’ resident in the State.

Employee mobility post Brexit – EU citizens

For EU citizens working/residing in the UK

The freedom of movement of people between the EU (excluding Ireland) 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 economy’s competitiveness and labour market.

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 other EU Member States 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.