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People who work in the United Kingdom have a number of employment rights and responsibilities - find out what they are and where to get further information.

Working in Northern Ireland

Introduction to working in Northern Ireland

People who work in the United Kingdom have a number of employment rights and responsibilities – find out what they are and where to get further information.

Getting started

If you’re not from the United Kingdom or another part of the European Union, you’ll usually need permission to work and may require a work permit.

Do you need permission to work in Northern Ireland?

Your employer will need to know if it is legal for you to work in the United Kingdom and whether you need permission to work here. You will need to show proof of your right to work.

Who can work in the UK?

If you want to come to the United Kingdom to work, whether you can depends on who you are. If you are not a British citizen or a citizen of one of the European Economic Area (EEA) countries, you may need a visa before you travel here.

If you have to get a visa, you’ll need to be cleared by officials at a British Overseas Mission in your country of origin. Once cleared, the entry clearance certificate, or visa, will be put into your passport or travel document.


EEA workers

Nearly all EEA and Swiss nationals are free to enter and live in the United Kingdom without the need to apply for permission. If you are from a new European Union (EU) member state (called ‘accession states’) then you may need to register or ask permission.

The EEA countries are:

Austria Belgium Bulgaria Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark
Estonia Finland France Germany Greece Hungary
Iceland Ireland Italy Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania
Luxembourg Malta Netherlands Norway Poland Portugal
Romania Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden United Kingdom

A2 countries

The countries that joined the EU in 2007 are known as ‘A2 countries’, these are:



If you are a national of one of these countries you may be subject to worker authorisation requirements. This means that you need authorisation from the UK Border Agency before accepting or starting any employment in the UK.

You do not need authorisation if you are self-employed.

Exceptions to worker registration and authorisation

There are a few other circumstances when you wouldn’t need to register if you are from one an A2 or A8 country.

The requirement for A2 Nationals to obtain work authorisation has been extended to 31 December 2013.


If you’re an international student you may not need permission to work here when you’re studying. If your home country is in the European Economic Area, or you’re a Swiss national, you can work without restrictions unless you are a national of one of the newer European Union accession states.

If you are a student from an A2 country you will need permission from the UK Border Agency to work. You will be allowed to work for up to 20 hours a week and full-time during vacations, or if you are on a vocational course. If you are a student from an A8 country and you wish to work. You should always check with the UK Border Agency.

Otherwise, you should check the visa stamp in your passport. If it says ‘prohibited’ you can’t work in the UK. If it grants you leave to enter or remain in the UK as a student, you can work here provided you don’t:

  • work more than 20 hours a week during term time, unless the employment is part of your studies, or is an internship
  • engage in business, are not self-employed and don’t provide services as a professional sportsperson or entertainer
  • take a permanent full-time position

Points-based system

If you want to work in the United Kingdom, you must apply under the new points-based system. If you are not from an European Economic Area country or Switzerland, you’re likely to need to apply under one of these tiers to work here.

There are five tiers within the points-based system:

  • tier 1 – highly skilled workers
  • tier 2 – skilled workers with a job offer
  • tier 3 – low-skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages
  • tier 4 – students
  • tier 5 – youth mobility and temporary workers

Tier 1

You should apply under this tier if you are a highly skilled worker, entrepreneur, investor or post-study worker and you want to come or extend your stay in the United Kingdom. This applies if you are here now under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme which closed when tier 1 was introduced.

Tiers 2 and 5

If you wish to enter the UK via these routes you must have a Certificate of Sponsorship provided by an organisation granted a sponsorship licence by the United Kingdom Border Agency. You will then use this as part of your application to work. You will also need to provide evidence of meeting other criteria which will earn you points towards your application.

Tier 3

The route for low-skilled workers is currently suspended.

Tier 4

There are two types of student categories in tier 4 of the points-based system:

general student – for students coming to the UK for post-16 education

child student – for children between 4 and 17 years old to come to the UK for their education (children between 4 and 15 years old may only be educated at independent fee paying schools)

To apply, you must want to study with an approved education provider that has a UK Border Agency tier 4 sponsorship licence.

What proof an employer will need from you?

If you’re from an European Economic Area country, you’ll need to show a prospective employer your:

  • passport
  • national identity card or Home Office registration certificate
  • UK Border Agency your work document if you are from an A2 or A8 country and need permission to work

Employers can face unlimited fines if they employ illegal workers and need to make sure that no one they employ is working in the UK illegally. However, to protect themselves against discrimination laws they should treat all job applicants equally. So don’t be offended if you’re asked to prove your nationality, as even UK nationals will be asked to provide proof.

Where can you get help?

Trade Unions

A trade union is an organisation made up of members (a membeship-based organisation) and its membership must be made up mainly of workers. One of a trade union’s main aims is to protect and advance the interests of its members in the workplace.

Most trade unions are independent of any employer. However, trade unions try to develop close working relationships with employers. This can sometimes take the form of a partnership agreement between the employer and the trade union which identifies their common interests and objectives.


Finding employment

There are lots of ways of finding a job:

  • personal contacts
  • Jobs and Benefits Offices/JobCentres
  • employment agency

These are all common ways of finding employment and you can improve your chances of getting a job by getting training to improve your skills.

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