Ensuring your workers are eligible to work in the UK

Checking a prospective worker's entitlement to work in the UK

As an employer, you need to ensure that each prospective worker is eligible to work in the UK before their employment commences. By doing this, you will establish a 'statutory excuse' against being liable to pay a fine (known as a 'civil penalty') for employing an illegal worker.

You should make the necessary checks even if you think a potential worker has the right to work in the UK. For more information, see our guide on employing migrants - an overview.

Who is an employer?

An employer is defined as a person who employs an individual under a contract of employment.

This can be a contract of service or an apprenticeship. The contract can be expressed either orally or in writing. See our guide on the employment contract.

Checking the right to work in the UK

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) publishes two lists - List A and List B - of documents which can demonstrate someone's right to work in the UK.

For you to have a statutory excuse against liability for a civil penalty, your prospective worker must provide you with an original version of one of the specified documents from List A, or a specified combination of two documents from List B.

Download guidance on checking List A and List B documents from the UKBA website (PDF, 2.76MB).

You should ask them to provide the documents before they start work, eg you could ask:

  • shortlisted applicants to bring the appropriate document(s) when they come for an interview
  • the successful applicant to provide the appropriate document(s) before you make them an unconditional job offer

Once the worker has presented you with the necessary document(s), you must:

  • satisfy yourself that the document(s) are valid and genuine, and have not been tampered with
  • check that any photographs and birth dates on the documents match the applicant's appearance
  • check information in the job application against the documents to ensure the details match up
  • check that the document(s) allow the worker to do the work on offer

Note that you are not expected to be an expert on forged documents. All you need to do is conduct simple - but careful - visual checks without the need for training or technological aids, to satisfy yourself that the document(s) presented are genuine, and relate to the person presenting them.

If you are not sure whether or not a document is valid, call the UKBA Sponsorship and Employers' Helpline on Tel 0300 123 4699.

If the worker provides a document or documents from List B, you must repeat the checks at least once every 12 months to retain the excuse until they provide a specified document or documents from List A, or they leave your employment.

Use our interactive tool to check if your workers are eligible to work in the UK.

In order to avoid racial discrimination, you should check all applicants' right to work in the UK - regardless of their race, ethnic or national origin, colour or (apparent) nationality.

Download the code of practice on preventing unlawful discrimination when checking the right to work in the UK from the UKBA website (PDF, 199K).

Penalties for employing an illegal worker

If you are found to be employing illegal migrant workers and you have not established a statutory excuse, you may have to pay a civil penalty of up to £10,000 per illegal migrant worker.

However, if you know that you are employing a person who is not permitted to work, you will not be entitled to the excuse.

You could also be prosecuted for the offence of knowingly employing an illegal migrant worker. If you are convicted of this offence, you could face an unlimited fine and/or a prison sentence of up to two years. You can find guidance on preventing illegal working on the UKBA website.

Reporting immigration offences

If you suspect that a job applicant is in the UK illegally or has no right to work in the UK, you should report them by sending an email to [email protected].

You can read guidance on reporting an illegal immigrant on the UKBA website.

Subjects covered in this guide


UKBA Sponsorship and Employers' Helpline

0300 123 4699


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