It has been a long and dramatic road to EU membership for Croatia. Croatia is set to become the newest member of the EU on 1 July 2013, some 12 years and four months after applying for membership and cracking down on corruption with some high profile casualties, not least Croatia's former Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader.
Along with the rest of the EU, Croatia's economy continues to struggle, unemployment is rising and its population is ageing. With more than 60 percent of Croatia's exports going to the EU, many Croatians will see this as a huge opportunity. EU member states can either impose temporary work restrictions on Croatian nationals for up to seven years or remove restrictions altogether.
The UK will apply transitional labour market restrictions to nationals of Croatia until 30 June 2018, and those restrictions may be extended for a further two years. Croatian nationals will generally have the right to reside in the UK as a worker only if they have obtained permission to work from the Home Office in the form of an accession worker authorisation document; they will have no right to reside by virtue of being a job seeker. The accession worker authorisation registration certificate will be endorsed with a condition restricting the Croatian national's employment to a particular employer and category of employment. Whilst supplementary employment is authorised, it will be limited to the same area of employment, unless it is a job that appears on the shortage occupation list and cannot exceed 20 hours per week.
In practice, this means that Croatian nationals will not have the same freedom to work in the UK as other EU nationals while the restrictions remain in place. Simply having a Croatian passport will not be enough. Most Croatian nationals will need to be issued with a valid certificate of sponsorship for employment under Tier 2 or Tier 5 of the Points-Based System, which is needed as part of the application for an accession worker authorisation document. They will need to retain the accession worker authorisation document for a period of 12 months without interruption. Businesses must therefore have a sponsor licence in place to employ a Croatian national arriving in the UK after 1 July 2013.
Following the 12-month period, the Croatian national may then apply for an EEA registration certificate. That certificate shall include a statement that the Croatian national has unconditional access to the UK labour market.
Croatian nationals who already have certain immigration permissions before 1 July 2013 will fall outside of the "Accession State national subject to worker authorisation" definition.
Employers should ensure that they know and are familiar with the correct right to work documents they will need to check and retain for Croatian nationals.
Croatia is expected to lift its work restrictions for nationals of most EU member states.