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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.

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.

Last reviewed: 10 May 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 10 May 2022

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