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Working without authorisation

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU and you work in an EU country without permission, you may have to leave and your employer may be penalised. However, you also have rights that must be respected.

EU rules set basic standards on sanctions to be imposed on employers who hire unauthorised migrant workers. These rules apply in 24 of the 27 EU countries, excluding Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, which have their own rules to prevent illegal employment.

On these pages you will find out what to generally expect if you are working in an EU country without authorisation.

Information on laws in a particular EU country may be found by consulting relevant organisations and authorities that are listed in the Directory.
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Risks of unauthorised work in the EU

What risks might I face? It is strictly prohibited to work in the EU without permission, and also to hire migrants who do not have proper work permission.

What are the risks of working illegally in an EU country?

If you are detected working illegally in an EU country you may have to leave. If you do not leave voluntarily, you may be returned and could be prohibited from coming back to the EU. You may also face other penalties depending on the circumstances and on the country you are working in.

More on what to expect if you are to be returned from an EU country, including your right to legal advice

Could my employer be punished?

Your employer may have to pay fines and risk having to close his or her workplace. The greater the number of undocumented migrant workers the employer has hired, the greater the punishment.

Your employer must pay the taxes and social security contributions s/he would have had to pay for legal employment.

Could my employer also face criminal charges?

Yes. An employer will be committing a criminal offence if:
  • The illegal employment continues or is repeated;
  • The illegal employment involves a large number of unauthorised migrant workers;
  • Working conditions are particularly bad;
  • The employer is aware that the employee is a victim of human trafficking;
  • The employee is a child.
People who participate in or encourage these offences can be equally guilty.

What would happen if my employer did not know that I was not authorised to work?

Your employer must verify before you are recruited that you have the right papers and must keep a copy or record of this authorisation during your employment. She/he must also notify the national authorities that you are being employed.

An employer who complies with these obligations will not be punished unless she/he knew that you presented fake documents.
Your rights as an unauthorised worker

What are my rights? What are my rights if I am found to be working illegally in an EU country?

Even if you have worked without the necessary authorisation, you will have the following rights:
  • Your employer must pay any unpaid wages that she/he owes you. The amounts are based on the legal minimum salary and calculated on working time for at least a minimum of three months, unless your employer provides evidence to the contrary.
  • Your host EU country must make sure that you get any unpaid wages, even after you have left the country.
  • Any costs for sending unpaid wages to you after you have left the country must be paid by your former employer;
  • You may be able to formally complain against your employer, either directly or through a trade union. Trade unions can represent you in any civil or criminal proceedings if you so wish.
Are there any circumstances in which I would be allowed to remain in the country?

If you were exploited by your employer or you were illegally employed as a child, you may be granted a temporary residence permit by your host EU country, similar to victims of trafficking. See protecting victims of trafficking.
Further information

More on how to work in an EU country

More on returning to your own country

More on protecting victims of trafficking

EU rules on employer sanctions

EU rules on return