Summertime in Britain – the beaches are buzzing, ice cream sales are bolstering the nation’s economy, and there are more WWOOF exchanges happening now than at any other time of year.
We have seen an increase in numbers of WWOOFers having problems when arriving at the UK border in recent months, with those coming here from outside Europe most likely to be eyed suspiciously by border force officers.
Some are just being put through the wringer with questions but still being allowed into the country, whilst an unhappy few are actually being deported. Here are a few key things WWOOFers and hosts need to know about what WWOOFers can expect when crossing the UK border.
Who is most affected by immigration problems when entering the UK?
- We’ve found that citizens of the USA are most likely to be questioned, regardless of where they have travelled from to get here.
- Anyone who is not an EU citizen may be questioned too.
Can non-EU citizens legally go WWOOFing in the UK anyway? Don’t they need a working visa?
Non-EU citizens can volunteer during a visit to the UK without a visa, as long as:
- they are coming to the UK as a visitor
- they are volunteering with a charity (which WWOOF UK definitely is – see the header of our website for our charity registration numbers)
- they are volunteering for less than 30 days during their visit
- the volunteering is ‘incidental’ to their visit.
But surely WWOOFing is ‘working’, and that’s not allowed?
- No, WWOOFing is not working. It’s volunteering. One of the main concerns border officers have is that people are coming to the UK to work illegally. Some border officers don’t understand the non-monetary concept of WWOOFing, so it is important that WWOOFers can explain clearly that they are a member of a charity, and are giving their time for free to help hosts who are members of the same charity as part of a learning exchange.
- Some WWOOFers who have been questioned at the border have been allowed through, but only after having been told very firmly by border officers that they must not work during their visit – that’s fine – WWOOF on!
OK, and what exactly is ‘incidental’ volunteering?
- Incidental means that the volunteering is not the main reason for a person’s visit to the UK. WWOOF has received a definition of this from the UK Border Force, which you can read on this very useful page of our website; Visiting the UK.
What if WWOOFers have pre-arranged their WWOOF placements before they arrive in the UK – that’s not very ‘incidental’ is it?
- We at WWOOF think it’s fine for WWOOFers to pre-book their WWOOFing and go straight to a host when they arrive in the UK so long as, overall, WWOOFing is something they’re doing in the UK as a secondary reason to being here as a tourist. WWOOFers should be prepared to tell immigration officers about their travel itinerary and prove that WWOOFing is only a minor part of their trip.
What else might WWOOFers be asked when they arrive at the UK border?
- The visa page lists some of the most common things WWOOFers get asked for at the border. The top question seems to be about when and how the WWOOFer will leave the UK – it makes it much easier for WWOOFers to enter the country if they can prove they’ll be leaving it again! Having return tickets at hand is probably one of the best guarantees to being allowed over the border.
So, it’d be easier for a WWOOFer just to not mention WWOOFing at all at the border and pretend their host is a family friend?
- No, don’t be tempted to lie! WWOOFers should tell the truth about what they’re doing and where they’re going from the outset. It can be a stressful experience to be questioned by a border officer, and if a WWOOFer starts off by concealing the truth it is likely they will eventually get found out and that in itself is enough to make a border officer so suspicious they will deny entry to the WWOOFer. If the WWOOFer is sticking to the immigration rules, there is no reason for them to lie.
- Hosts may get a phone call from a border officer to check the WWOOFer is telling the truth – hosts should also tell the truth, and if they can be prepared to say that they are a WWOOF UK charity member, and that they understand the WWOOFer is a tourist who is volunteering for a little while before heading off to see the sites, then that will help! Avoiding the word ‘work’ is also a good idea in these situations.
We would encourage all hosts and WWOOFers to read the visa information page of our website, and suggest that WWOOFers print a copy of the page to carry with them when they arrive in the UK. Knowledge is power!
Wishing all our members happy travels, happy hosting, and happy WWOOFing this summer!
photo: released under the Creative Commons CCO