Of the many hundreds of our members who come WWOOFing in the UK from overseas, we believe that only a very small percentage ever experience serious problems at the UK border. However, we did hear about five examples in 2017, and having even one WWOOFer go through the traumatic experience of being deported is one too many.
There are three key points about immigration and WWOOFing which all WWOOFers and hosts should understand and be ready to discuss with border officials if necessary.
1. Immigration problems happen more often to WWOOFers who are non-EU citizens
All WWOOFers, regardless of nationality, must take responsibility for having the necessary travel documents and permissions to enter the UK. However, every immigration issue and deportation we have heard about since 2014 has happened to non-EU citizens.
In April 2017, a WWOOFer arrived in the UK having flown from Barcelona. She is an Andorran citizen, and there is no airport in Andorra so Barcelona is the closest airport to her home, but she was deported because Andorra is not an EU country!
2. Essential Immigration Rules for non-EU volunteers to know:
a) you must be coming to the UK as a visitor – e.g. as a tourist, or to visit friends or family
b) you can volunteer with a registered charity whilst visiting the UK (WWOOF UK is a charity registered in Scotland, England and Wales)
c) the volunteering must NOT be the main reason you are coming to the UK (this is described in the Rules as 'incidental volunteering')
d) you must not volunteer for more than 30 days during your visit.
In November 2017 a WWOOFer, who is a US citizen, arrived in the UK having planned to stay in the country for about five weeks to visit two different friends. She had arranged four weeks of WWOOFing in between visits to her friends. This sounded to us like incidental volunteering because the main reason for her visit was to see her friends, but border officials did not agree and deported her. WWOOF is currently discussing this case with Home Office ministers to make sure we get absolute clarity on how to judge when volunteering is 'incidental' to a WWOOFer's visit. We'll keep you posted – the immigration page of our website is updated regularly with information and advice.
3. WWOOFing is not work
Visitors to the UK cannot work during their visit. If, when questioned at the UK border, any non-EU WWOOFer starts talking about the 'work' they'll be doing with a host, this will ring alarm bells for border officials. Be very, very clear – WWOOFing is volunteering, or an exchange, a visit or an educational experience, but it is never 'work'.
In October 2017, a US citizen arrived at the UK border and was questioned by officials about what she would be doing whilst in the country. She explained that she would be doing bar work and administrative work for two WWOOF hosts. She was deported.
WWOOF UK is a charity based on principles of education. Serving behind a bar or helping with a bit of admin just about passes as something a WWOOFer might do a little of to learn about a host's land-based activities. In immigration terms, a WWOOFer coming to the UK ‘to do WWOOFing working behind a bar’ will almost certainly not be allowed into the country, whereas an explanation of how the WWOOFer's time will be spent ‘volunteering with an educational charity, learning about land-based living’ will be much more acceptable!
Like them or not, the Immigration Rules are something WWOOFers and hosts have to live with for now and whilst WWOOF UK staff do occasionally have to speak to the Home Office when we believe the officials haven't got it right, most of the time they are following the Rules.
WWOOFers can arrange their visit to the UK without falling foul of the Rules; and hosts can help to make getting across the UK border to do a spot of WWOOFing easy (and educational)!!