Coming to the UK
There may be restrictions on working as a volunteer in the UK.
The majority of the volunteering opportunities available require you to give a minimum commitment of 3 - 6 months. Most volunteering opportunities require a 4 - 6 hours commitment per week.
Unfortunately we are unable to provide advice or information on paid employment in the UK or provide any help with accommodation.
Please note that we are only able to reply to e-mails sent to us in English.
Volunteers from the European Union
There are no restrictions on volunteering by people from Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The same freedom is extended to nationals of Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
Volunteers from non-EU countries
The general rule is that non-EU nationals need a work permit to take up "employment paid or unpaid", which includes volunteering. There are separate rules for refugees and asylum seekers (see below). Working holiday makers are permitted to volunteer. Spouses of work permit holders are allowed to volunteer.
The Home Office has made an important concession to the general rule. The concession allows people from non-EU countries to volunteer if certain conditions are met:
- they volunteer with a registered charity
- pocket money, board and accommodation may be provided, but no additional remuneration
- the volunteer's work must be closely related to the aims of the organisation - they should be working with people rather than doing purely clerical, administrative or maintenance work (for which a work permit is required)
- the volunteer may be allowed to stay in the country for a maximum of 12 months
- the volunteer must not seek or take paid employment whilst they are here.
People coming to this country in order to volunteer
People from countries for which a visa is needed to travel to the UK must obtain one before travelling.
People who have arranged their voluntary work before travelling to the UK and who do not need a visa but would like peace of mind can seek entry clearance before travelling. This takes the form of a certificate placed in your passport. This is not a requirement and does not guarantee entry into the UK, but it may make passage through immigration control easier. Application for entry clearance is made to the British Embassy or High Commission in the volunteer's country. A fee is charged for entry clearance.
Applying from the UK for permission to volunteer
Different regulations apply according to whether the person is from a country from which a visa is required to enter the UK (visa nationals) or not (non-visa nationals). You can find out which category a country falls into by phoning the Immigration and Nationality Department on +44 (0) 208 606 7766
Visa nationals must have the appropriate visa, e.g. a volunteer visa. If they wish to switch to a different visa they have to return to their home country and apply from there.
Non-visa nationals can apply while in the UK to change their immigration
status to allow them to volunteer. Applications are granted under the
Home Office concession described above.
Application is made on Form FLR0 obtainable from the Application Forms Unit (0870 241 0645 or www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk (please note the on-line form is available as a PDF document). of the Immigration and Nationality Department. Applicants need a letter from the organisation they are volunteering with and evidence of funds. In January 1998 it was taking anything from 1 – 12 weeks to process applications.
Since mid-1999 students from outside the European Economic Area no longer need permission to take part-time or holiday work, including volunteering.
Some restrictions remain in place, including a limit of 20 hours per week during term time, unless the college agrees otherwise.
People who have refugee status or who have exceptional leave to remain, and family members, are allowed to do any type of work including voluntary work.
Since April 2000, asylum seekers (people in the process of applying for refugee status) and family members are allowed to volunteer. This includes whilst they are appealing against a decision to refuse them asylum.
New Home Office guidance confirms that the Government 'does not expect asylum-seekers to be left out of pocket because of their volunteering', and that they can be reimbursed normal volunteer expenses. It states that care should be taken to ensure that activity undertaken by an asylum seeker is genuinely voluntary, and does not amount to either employment or job substitution.
If an asylum seeker's application is still outstanding after 6 months they may apply for permission to work under a concession outside the Immigration Rules. This is usually granted.
Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, section 8
This Act makes it a criminal offence to employ a person who does not have the right to work in the UK. It does not apply to volunteers. If you are unsure whether your volunteers are in law employees, contact our information service for further details.
Complying with the Act
Under the Act employers cannot be convicted if they make a copy of one of a number of documents including:
- a P45 or P60 from a previous employer showing the National Insurance number
- National insurance card
- Passport or other travel document showing the person has the right to work in the UK
- Certain other documents specified by the Home Office
To avoid racial discrimination, organisations should be consistent in asking, or not asking, for such documents from all volunteers. The Commission for Racial Equality has a free guide to Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act (see below).
Commission for Racial Equality
10/12 Allington Street
London, SW1E 5EH
Tel: 020 7828 7022
Immigration and Nationality Directorate
Block C, Whitgift Centre
Tel: 0870 606 7766
Fax: 020 8760 3017
London SW8 1SJ
Telephone: 020 7582 6922
From the National Centre for Volunteering.
BECOME RICHER. WORK FOR NOTHING.