Volunteers Vs Voluntary Workers immigration rules

Organisations who wish to welcome volunteers and voluntary workers to bridge a gap in staff shortages tend to welcome the idea of individuals offering their free time to volunteer without expecting remuneration in return.

However, for the organisation, it is important to know the difference between volunteers and voluntary workers.


A volunteer is typically someone who offers to do something that they do not have to do, often without having been asked to do it and/or without expecting payment.

  • These can include students in the UK who have been granted an immigration permission to be here and are permitted to volunteer.
  • Overseas visitors to the UK can volunteer for a registered charity for a maximum of 30 calendar days during their visit, but volunteering cannot be the main purpose of their visit.
  • Individuals who have a limited permission to work in the UK may not carry out any voluntary work.

Voluntary Work

  • This is determined where there is an obligation on the individual to perform the work and in return an obligation on the organisation to provide it. The obligation does not have to be in writing.
  • The individual is normally rewarded for that work, either through money or benefits in kind
  • An obligation to work or receipt of remuneration is likely to mean that the individual is working under a mutuality of obligation. Where there is mutuality of obligation, it is voluntary work.

What does this mean for overseas visitors in the UK?

Voluntary work will require a right-to-work check conducted by the organisation.

It is not always easy to differentiate whether an opportunity is classed as volunteering or voluntary work. If you are unsure, please get in touch with the team here at Migrate UK, where we can assist you & help you remain compliant with your employer obligations.


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