Both public and private sector organisations can’t get enough skilled people now and for their future needs, and are worried that Brexit will increase difficulties in retaining workers from EEA countries.
The status of EU citizens (and their family members) when the UK leaves the EU on 29 March has been a key question. This week the government launched its latest pilot scheme for people to apply for leave to remain, through a smartphone app.
It’s a critical time for organisations that rely on overseas staff to keep their businesses running and provide the required skills from workers from both EEA and non-EU countries.
Under the scheme EU citizens can apply for 'settled' or 'pre-settled' status:
- Settled status – EU citizens and their family members who have been continuously resident in the UK for five years by 31 December 2020 will be eligible for settled status, enabling them to stay in the UK indefinitely.
- Pre-settled status – EU citizens and their family members who arrive in the UK by 31 December 2020, but will not yet have been continuously resident for five years, will be eligible for pre-settled status. This enables them to stay until they have reached the five-year threshold and they can then apply for settled status.
EU citizens and their family members who obtain settled/pre-settled status will have the same entitlements as before Brexit; their access to work, healthcare, education, public services, pensions and other benefits will not change. Individuals who already have British citizenship or indefinite leave to remain won't be affected by Brexit.
A recent immigration whitepaper acknowledged the administrative burden on employers, and said the new system will be more business-friendly. If there is a Brexit deal, free movement for EU nationals will continue during the implementation period, meaning organisations will be able to employ EU nationals without any restrictions until December 2020.
In there is a ‘no-deal’ scenario EU/EEA nationals already in the UK by 29 March 2019 can remain, but it is unclear if free movement will continue for EU nationals arriving post-Brexit, until a new immigration system is rolled out or a sensible transition period is set by the government.
Employers have long complained that the UK has one of the most expensive visa systems in the world, and that’s unlikely to change. The need to obtain prior entry clearance may mean businesses also need to allow additional time before they can employ individuals while the new immigration system is rolled out.
HR departments have a vital role in ensuring organisations remain agile and can retain their talent pipeline.
- Consider whether the organisation will need to hire non-UK workers to meet workforce needs. If so, it should register now as a sponsor or ensure that its licence remains up to date and valid. This could take four months to secure, and will also involve substantial record-keeping and reporting obligations, with the added worry that any non-compliance risks employers losing their licence and ability to recruit overseas staff.
- Employ new retention strategies, with greater support for existing EU staff to encourage settled and pre-settled status applications.
- Consider paying fees associated with settled status applications, and easier access to employer documentation.
Ultimately, with public policy around migration and employment still fluid, organisations will also need to remain agile, engage in scenario planning, and keep closely aware of new opportunities that arise as the post-Brexit employment landscape takes shape.
Bhavika Badola is an employment and business immigration lawyer at Bevan Brittan