Following June’s referendum, when the UK voted to leave the EU, Brexit has and continues to be the word on everyone’s lips. With no solid Brexit strategy in place and the pound dropping against the dollar to its lowest level in 31 years, it’s little wonder that there’s speculation that the UK could go into another recession. The result has contributed to political unrest, resulting in the resignation of the prime minster, appointment of a new one and a divided Labour party.
With the deadline for Brexit in sight, it is important that employers now turn their attention to what they can do to keep their EU staff in the UK.
Businesses across the UK have all greatly profited from the immigration of EU workers. The Office for National Statistics highlights that there are 2.28 million EU workers in the UK, which make up 7% of the UK’s workforce. If there’s a no-deal outcome after the Brexit vote, then employers should be aware that employees may be more worried about their future and may be more likely to apply for work elsewhere.
Once free movement comes to an end and new rules are imposed for immigration, replacing these EU workers could become difficult. This could also have a detrimental impact on the number of new projects that can be started and reduce revenues. This alone could be very worrying for companies across the UK, who may already face skills shortages due to record unemployment rates.
It is imperative that companies take precautions and implement HR policies to help their EU workforce.
How could Brexit affect EU Citizens?
Following the UK leaving the European Union next March, EU workers should be able to apply for settled or pre-settled status. There is currently due to be a transition period that runs until 31 December 2020 during which free movement won’t be affected and EU nationals can easily come to work in the UK. If EU workers want to remain in the UK, they will have to register and apply for either a settled or pre-settled status, once the transition period has come to an end.
EU citizens, or a family member of an EU citizens, who have lived in the UK for at least a continuous period of 5 years are currently eligible to apply for Settles Status. If they have not lived in the UK for a 5-year period they may be able for Pre-Settled status.
Settled Status means the individual can stay in the UK for a indefinite period and also gives them the right to apply for British citizenship. Pre-settled status allows an individual to stay a further 5 years in the UK and the right to apply for settled status once they meet the 5-year continuous residence criteria.
To apply there will be a £65 application fee for adults and £32.50 cost for children. However, there will be no costs for children in care or workers who hold a permanent residence document.
Workers will be able to make an online application and their identity can be verified through an app or by sending the Home Office their passport.
To determine whether a worker is eligible for either a settled or pre-settled status, their tax and benefits records will be examined and shared with HMRC and the Department of Work and Pensions, which will reveal how long the worker has been in the UK. If they can’t find out how long a work has lived in the UK, workers will have the opportunity to provide other evidence.
It’s important that EU citizens submit pre-settled or settled applications by 30 June 2021, which is when the scheme closes (apart from workers with pre-settled status who become eligible for settled status and for some family members).
What employers can do to help workers
Firstly, you need to identify and EU workers and tell them about the process for applying for settled or pre-settled status and make sure they have the latest, up to date information.
You should talk to staff and try to reassure them who are worried about Brexit and the impact that it could have on them and their families.
You should consider the different groupings of individuals and consider creating a plan of action to cover all of the different issues which each individual group may face.
Companies could consider covering the cost of applications, which may reassure workers and make them feel valued and therefore want to remain in the UK.
Employers should tread carefully with EU workers who are currently on or thinking about going on an assignment abroad. This is because their time abroad could affect their eligibility to apply for settled or pre-settled status. It’s advised to have conversations early on with employees, to ensure that those who wish to return and work in the UK can do so.
Following a no-deal scenario, businesses need to understand the risks and devise a plan of action if the UK’s immigrations system for non-EU workers is enforced for workers from the EU. Through carrying out a gap analysis and assessing how the European migrant workforce maps to the immigration rules, may highlight a potential for labour shortages in the future and this could shape policy priorities.
Employees should always be advised to seek independent immigration advice as the above may change as the Brexit deal [or no deal] develops.