Hiring EU workers in a post-Brexit world

With Article 50 now triggered and talk of tougher work permits and resident labour market tests, what might hiring look like post-Brexit?

There’s little wonder why Brexit tops the list of business's concerns. In February MPs rejected an amendment to give all EU citizens in the UK permanent residence after Britain leaves the EU, and the government’s latest Brexit plans mentioned a possible 'phased process of implementation' for businesses to prepare for a new system of controlling EU migration. Meanwhile, there are talks of introducing tougher work permit systems and a tighter resident labour market test for companies to pass before recruiting EU employees.

So how might the hiring landscape look in a post-Brexit world?

Tough work visas

The prime minister has already rejected the idea of a points-based system in place of a work permit-style scheme. This could limit EU migrants from coming into the UK for long-term purposes unless they have a qualified job offer, and place restrictions on foreign students studying and traveling to the UK.

As an idea, current Tier 2 visa applications cost between £437 and £1,151 for entry clearance depending on the sub-category that they have applied under and the length of time that the applicant will be working in the UK.

The other question to consider is what happens if employment contracts come to an end or the employee stops being a qualified person under a revised immigration system? Latest CIPD reports already show that sectors relying on EU nationals are suffering skills and labour shortages, with more than a quarter of employers predicting that their EU workers could leave their jobs and the UK this year.

Resident Labour Market Labour Tests

Under a revised immigration system, it’s also highly possible that the current Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) that is used for non-EU citizens, may apply to EU citizens too; increasing administration costs and forcing HR to plan recruitment needs much further in advance. The RLMT requires companies to advertise a vacancy within the UK before recruiting an EU member, so UK workers with the relevant skills can apply for the role first and demonstrate they meet the job criteria.

Having a robust monitoring system in place that closely tracks current and future skills gaps and role requirements, will be ever more important to ensure that job applications are advertised and filled in line with the company’s recruitment needs.

A work-sponsorship system

Companies that hold a Sponsor Licence are permitted to employ non-EU workers in the UK and we may see the same or similar work sponsorship system introduced for European workers. The downside is it will come with further levies and surcharges for employers, and licence requirements and restrictions on employees.

From April this year, with the introduction of the Immigration Skills Charge, a new visa could be anything up to £5,000 more expensive for non-EU citizens, which will cost employers thousands of pounds on top of the existing fees. If the sponsorship requirement is extended to EU workers, companies may have to apply for a separate licence, at a cost still unknown. Given the CIPD reports on EU worker shortages, these extra costs are likely to fuel the skills crisis even further, and particularly impact the SME market.

Restrictions on EU workers bringing over non-UK family members.

If the government follows current guidelines for non-EU worker family members then EU citizens entering the UK may be limited to bringing over married or unmarried partners, and dependent children under 18. Extended family members such as parents or grandparents could be exempt from the UK unless they apply themselves. This is a significant change from the current ‘freedom of movement’ regime, with many EU citizens likely to rethink their future in the UK should the restrictions apply post-Brexit.

As campaign group the3million says, Theresa May needs to end uncertainty by guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit. Until that time HR professionals are best to encourage any ‘qualified persons’ who have been in the UK for under five years to apply for a Certificate of Registration. If they have been here for at least five consecutive years ‘qualified persons’ should apply for Permanent Residence to prove their right to live and/or work in the UK, and help mitigate the impact that any new immigration legislation may bring.

Jonathan Beech is managing director of Migrate UK