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Volunteers from overseas

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The rules about people from overseas volunteering are complex and sometimes contradictory.

There are no restrictions on volunteering for people from within the EU/European Economic Activity (EEA) area.

For people outside the EEA, there are various restrictions based on what type of visa they are travelling on. The table below explains the situation for key immigration statuses.

Note that all visitor categories are now in Appendix V of the Immigration Rules.

General visitors are now allowed to volunteer for up to 30 days for a registered charity during their stay.

 

Type of VisaCan I Volunteer?Notes

Tier 1: Highly skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs or post-study workers.

Yes, unless classified as entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs are only allowed to volunteer / do voluntary work for the business they have established, joined or taken over. Other Tier 1 migrants are free to volunteer/ do any voluntary work they want (other than some restrictions on doctors/ dentists in training and sports people).

See immigration rules at GOV.UK

Tier 2: sponsored skilled workers with a job offer

Yes

Tier 2 migrants can undertake voluntary work in any sector and must not be paid, apart from reasonable expenses outlined in section 44 of the NMW Act 1998.

See guidance at GOV.UK

Tier 4: student

Yes

Students following a course of degree level study or a foundation degree course can do no more than a total of 20 hours per week of paid or unpaid work in term time.

Students following a course of study below degree level study (excluding a foundation degree course) can do no more than a total 10 hours per week of paid or unpaid work in term time.

Download the guidance document at GOV.UK (pdf, 1.4MB)

Tier 5 (Temporary Worker): Sponsored temporary worker

No

T5 Temporary Workers under the International Agreement sub-category cannot undertake voluntary work.

See the guidance at GOV.UK

Tier 5 (Temporary Worker): Unpaid charity worker

Yes

The individual must be sponsored by an A or B-rated licensed charity with whom they will be volunteering.

They are allowed to do up to a total of 20 hours supplementary work, paid or unpaid, but such work must be either: (1) in the same profession and field; or (2) on the Tier 2 shortage occupation list

See the guidance at GOV.UK

Tier 5 (Youth mobility scheme)

Yes

See the guidance at GOV.UK

Dependant of a Tier 1,2 or 5 migrant

Yes

See guidance on dependants of Tier 1, 2 and 5 migrants at GOV.UK.

Dependant of a Tier 4 migrant

In some circumstances

Cannot undertake paid/unpaid work if their Tier 4 sponsor has applied for leave of less than 12 months or for a course that is below degree level.

If they are not permitted to work they are not permitted to volunteer. If they are subject to minimal restrictions on employment they can volunteer. 

See the guidance at GOV.UK

Short-term student visa

 

Yes

Short-term students are not allowed to work in the UK, either in a paid or an unpaid job. They are not allowed to enrol on a course of study that includes a work placement or work experience.

Short-term students can volunteer but may not do voluntary work. You must be clear on the difference between the 2.

See page 13 of the short-term students guidance at GOV.UK (pdf, 280KB)

Standard Visitor

In most circumstances

Allowed to volunteer for up to 30 days for a registered charity during stay, except when entering through Approved Destination Status agreement (with China).

See visitor rules at GOV.UK

Marriage/ Civil partnership Visitor

Yes

Allowed to volunteer for up to 30 days for a registered charity during stay.

See visitor rules at GOV.UK

Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) visit

Yes.

Allowed to volunteer for up to 30 days for a registered charity during stay.

See visitor rules at GOV.UK

Transit visit

No.

See visitor rules at GOV.UK

Refugees and asylum seekers

People who have refugee status or humanitarian protection, or who have ‘exceptional leave to remain’, and their family members, are allowed to do any type of work including voluntary work.

Asylum seekers (people in the process of applying for refugee status) and family members are not normally allowed to work while their claim is being decided, but they can volunteer in both the public and voluntary sectors. This includes while they are appealing against a decision to refuse them asylum.

The law on illegal working and volunteers

It is important that employers are aware of their responsibility not to employ people who do not have the right to work in the UK, because there are strong penalties under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006.  Section 34 of the Immigration Act 2016 broadened the definition of ‘working’ to include workers as well as employees.

Under the Immigration Act 2016, it is a criminal offence:

  • for an individual to work when they are disqualified from working by a reason due to their immigration status and at that time, the individual knows or has reasonable cause to believe that they are disqualified from working by reason of their immigration status (Section 34). The reference to working includes (not an extensive list) under a contract of employment, under a contract of apprenticeship, under a contract personally to do work, under or for the purposes of a contract for services, for a purpose related to a contract to sell goods.
  • for an employer if it employs another person (“the employee”) who is disqualified from employment by reason of the employee’s immigration status, and has reasonable cause to believe that the employee is disqualified from employment by reason of the employee’s immigration status (Section 35). A person is disqualified from employment by reason of the person’s immigration status if the person is an adult subject to immigration control and (i) the person has not been granted leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, or (ii) the person’s leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom is invalid, or has ceased to have effect (whether by reason of curtailment, revocation, cancellation, passage of time or otherwise), or is subject to a condition preventing the person from accepting the employment.

It is therefore advisable that organisations take a considered approach towards conducting right to work checks for their volunteers.  If there is any possibility that the volunteer could be deemed to be working under a contract, either as an employee or a worker then a check should be carried out.  If a volunteer is purely volunteering, however, there is no requirement for them to have the right to work in the UK and no check is required.

Page last edited Oct 11, 2019

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