The Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 (Section 8 ) requires that all UK employers be responsible for the legal work status of their employees.
In order to work legally in the UK, you must have either a valid UK passport; or been granted leave to enter and remain in the country. In practical terms, this means you have to be able to provide at least one of the documents noted in the Home Office’s “Specified List” of items capable of granting you leave to seek employment in the United Kingdom.
The specified list and working in the UK
The specified list is a checklist of documents that prove their holder is a UK citizen; or that the holder is entitled to work in the UK.
These documents include:
- A UK passport
- A UK residence permit issued to an EU state resident
- A letter issued by the Home Office confirming the bearer has indefinite leave to be in the UK
- Proof of the worker’s National Insurance (NI) from a previous UK employer
- A valid work permit
- A certificate of registration as a British citizen
- A birth certificate issued in the UK or Republic of Ireland
Which comes first? Your NI number or a work permit?
Ultimately, an immigrant worker needs a NI number in order to work (as well as a work permit). But many employers require the NI number in order to give work.
This is partly due to the obligations contained in Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act (as noted above), which makes it clear that the employer will be penalised if he or she is found to be hiring people who do not have the legal right to work in this country. The fines imposed on employers found to have broken this law are so damaging that many employers simply opt for the safest route – only take on someone who has a NI number.
Technically the work permit requires a NI number too – which means many immigrant workers appear to face a Catch 22. You need a work permit to work, you need a NI number for a work permit – but you can’t get a NI number without a job.
The UK Immigration System – Points and the National Insurance Number
The UK immigration works on a points system, whereby individuals granted a certain number of immigration points, automatically become classified as a skilled worker. Points are awarded according to criteria set by the Home Office: including age; previous work experience; and provable occupational qualifications.
If you have the points required to apply for a Blue Skilled Worker immigration card, you can use the blue card to apply for a NI number. At this point you can also apply for a work permit, and begin seeking work.
You can also apply for immigration status through your employer. If a construction company wishes to give you a job and immediately put you into the application system, you can work with a temporary NI number until your own comes through.