Employing migrant workers in Northern Ireland

How to support migrant workers in your business


A new immigration system applies to people arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021. EU citizens moving to the UK to work will need to get a visa in advance. Employers need a sponsor licence to hire most workers from outside the UK.

Please note: this requirement excludes Irish citizens and those who already have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

See right to work checks: employing EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens.

Migrant workers may face a number of unique challenges in the workplace, including communication or language barriers, cultural differences or their international qualifications not being recognised in Northern Ireland. As an employer, you should be aware of these challenges and identify ways in which you can support any migrant workers you may employ.

Implement policies and procedures

Your policies and procedures should promote equality of opportunity in the workplace, especially your equal opportunities and harassment policies and procedures.

See disciplinary, grievance, bullying and harassment policies.

You should have equality and diversity policies in place and ensure they are followed and understood across the business. See equality and diversity workplace policies.

Encouraging input from staff when creating and reviewing policies can be useful in ensuring that they are implemented throughout the organisation.

Model policy templates

The Equality Commission provides free model policies that are available to download from the Equality Commission's website.

You should also regularly review these policies in relation to relevant issues such as language and religious and cultural needs.

Racial equality plan template 

A good way to take practical action to help you implement your policies and procedures in order to benefit migrant workers and members of other racial or ethnic groups is to develop a racial equality action plan. Find further guidance from the Equality Commission on equality plans, including a racial equality plan template that you can download and adapt for your organisation.

Provide equality and diversity training

Providing equality and diversity training for all workers could also help to embed the correct procedures and values into your business. You should also include bullying, harassment, and dignity at work within this training.

Bullying and harassment training specifically for line managers/supervisors would help them spot signs of bullying or harassment and decide on the best way to deal with any issues that may arise.

Line managers should also monitor the effectiveness of staff training and be proactive in addressing any issues that arise eg a worker having difficulty mixing with other staff.

In addition, having a suitable induction process set up for non-UK nationals is essential in helping them to integrate and settle into the business and the new culture.

See taking migrant workers through their induction.

Focus on language and communication

You should ensure migrant workers understand their legal rights and responsibilities, even if this means translating important documents.

You could also use a mentoring system, where less experienced workers are paired with experienced colleagues who speak the same language.

You could also put flexible arrangements in place to allow attendance at courses in 'workplace English' for speakers of other languages. This would help to reduce the need for translation.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes focus on speaking and listening, reading and writing, vocabulary and punctuation, and grammar. There are courses available at different levels of competence.

Find out more about ESOL.

You could also help with integration among staff by organising team events where everyone can get involved eg fundraising events.

Provide training and development opportunities

It is good practice to ensure all employees have the opportunity to develop and enhance their skills, both personally and professionally.

See staff training.