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June 21, 2024updated 26 Jun 2024 1:40pm

HNW households face hurdles to bring staff into the UK

Stringent visa requirements, casual working agreements and Brexit talent shortages all pose problems for HNWs seeking to hire domestic workers

By Zarmina Mahmood

Domestic workers are the ‘unsung heroes’ of an ultra-high-net-worth household, with a single family often requiring retinue of staff. The internationally mobile nature of life as an UHNW means these individuals cannot afford to hire and dismiss a nanny, cleaner, or chauffeur, in each country in which they spend time. Instead, many seek to travel with their entire household. However, the jet-set can encounter obstacles when it comes to bringing domestic staff into the UK. This immigration landscape has only become more formidable post-Brexit. 

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Problems with the Domestic Worker Visa

In response to the scarcity of individuals willing to undertake domestic roles, the UK government introduced the Domestic Worker Visa in 2002 as the primary avenue for foreign and British employers based abroad to bring their staff to the UK for temporary stays of up to six months.

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This visa, however, comes with stringent conditions, including working full-time in a UK household the employer will reside and meeting the UK minimum wage which is subject to change on 1 April every year, and is at present £10.42 per hour for those aged 21 and over.

[See also: UK wealth exodus: Brexit and non-dom debate ‘driving away the rich’]

We often see that individuals find documenting a genuine employer-employee relationship to be challenging, especially from countries where formal employment contracts are not required. This challenge is further exacerbated when remuneration is undocumented. Any discrepancies, especially in documenting the work history, may lead to delays or refusals. Hence, it is crucial to obtain legal advice.

Taking action before travelling

In anticipation of visiting the UK, employers can proactively take steps to mitigate potential challenges besides seeking legal advice. For example, by ensuring the establishment of formal contracts and undertaking necessary checks on their employee’s immigration status. This includes ensuring that their staff obtains the necessary visas before commencing employment with them overseas as it would help documenting their relationship before coming to the UK, considering specific domestic worker visas in certain countries. 

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For other domestic workers who are exempt from immigration restrictions, it is recommended to have standardised household accounting to make monthly salaries traceable. These steps would streamline the process for a domestic worker visa to the UK.

Challenges for local employers

Our most common query is regarding the feasibility of employers who are settled in the UK to employ domestic workers from overseas on a long-term basis. While foreign and British employers based abroad can utilise the Domestic Worker Visa whilst visiting the UK, local employers in the UK face challenges in recruiting domestic help from the local labour market. In short, the answer is ‘no’. 

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Unfortunately for British UHNWs, this creates problems. There aren’t viable immigration options available to recruit from abroad for private households. Options like the Skilled Worker visa are available. However, businesses must hold a sponsor licence in place to sponsor individuals for these roles, rendering this option accessible only to businesses rather than private households or individuals. 

The most straightforward option would be to recruit from the domestic workforce. However, the aftermath of Brexit has resulted in a shortage of nannies and au pairs. 

Beyond the UK: European regulations for domestic workers

In several European countries, rules regarding long-term stay for domestic workers can be equally restrictive as those in the UK, offering limited options for extended residency. It is important to take note of these varying rules ahead of any European jaunts or summers spent on the continent.

France

In France, short stays of up to 90 days may be exempt from work permit requirements, with Schengen area limits. However, longer stays necessitate a work permit, requiring a labour market test and substantial evidence of the inability to find suitable local candidates—a challenging feat.

Italy 

Italy employs a quota system for domestic worker applications. Exemptions exist for those employed by EU nationals outside Italy for at least one year, allowing the working relationship to continue during the EU national’s move to Italy. However, this path involves a meticulous process, including work permit and entry visa applications, a contract of stay and a residence permit application.

Spain

Non-Spanish nationals can live and work as domestic workers in Spain, subject to obtaining the required permits. A labour market test applies unless specific nationalities or familial relationships are present. Initial residence permits are valid for one year, with renewals contingent on maintaining the conditions that led to the permit.

Portugal

The D1 visa provides residency authorisation for non-EU citizens with a written employment contract with a Portuguese-based legal individual. Eligibility requires demonstrating planned activities, proof of accommodation, and an employment or promissory employment contract.

Zarmina Mahmood is an associate at Fragomen.

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