On 1 July 2013, the Republic of Croatia will accede to the European Union (EU). On accession, nationals of Croatia will become nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA). They will therefore be entitled to the same rights, including the right to enter and reside in other member states, as other EEA nationals. However, Annex V of the treaty concerning the accession permits member states to restrict these rights for a transitional period of five years.

The UK is using this power to restrict the rights of Croatian nationals by way of the Accession of Croatia (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2013 (the 2013 Regulations). The key provision of the 2013 Regulations is regulation 8, which provides that a national of Croatia will only be authorised to work in the UK if he or she holds an accession worker authorisation document and is working in accordance with the conditions set out in the document.

An accession worker authorisation document is defined as either:

  • a passport or travel document endorsed before 1 July 2013 with valid leave to enter or remain, eg entry clearance as a Tier 2 (general) migrant, leave to remain as a PBS dependant etc; or
  • a worker authorisation registration certificate.  

Therefore, those with permission to work prior to accession will continue to have this permission.

Croatian nationals subject to worker authorisation cannot be treated as jobseekers as provided in regulation 5 of the 2013 Regulations). During the accession period, Croatian nationals will be able to freely enter the UK and exercise Treaty rights in the UK without having to apply for permission to do so as:

  • self-employed persons;
  • self-sufficient persons; or
  • students (unless they want to take up employment).  

From 1 July 2013, although nationals of Croatia will not be required to apply for permission to enter the UK, they must apply for permission to work in employment in the UK by submitting an application for an accession worker registration certificate (AWRC) for a fee of £55.

Croatian spouses, civil partners, unmarried partners, same-sex partners, and direct descendants (under 21 or dependants) of a Croatian national who is subject to worker authorisation will not themselves be subject to worker authorisation.

An AWRC should be issued provided a Croatian national meets the relevant requirements for the authorised category of employment as set out in the Statement of Relevant Requirements. The authorised categories are as follows:

  • Tier 2 or Tier 5 of the points based system;
  • representative of an overseas business;
  • postgraduate doctor or dentist; or
  • domestic worker in a private household.

Croatian nationals may also apply to be ‘highly skilled persons’ (pursuant to regulation 3 of the 2013 Regulations). ‘Highly skilled persons’ are those who:

  • meet the requirements under the Tier 1 (exceptional talent) route (paragraph 245BB of the Immigration Rules); or
  • have been awarded with a qualification as specified in the 2013 Regulations and have applied for an EEA registration certificate as a highly skilled person within 12 months of being awarded the qualification.  

Any employers discovered to be employing a Croatian national without an accession worker authorisation document will be liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or a prison sentence (up to 51 weeks in England and Wales and up to six months in Scotland and Northern Ireland). For Croatian nationals found to be working without this document, there will be a fixed penalty fine of £1,000 and they could face imprisonment of up to three months.