Four key messages about EU staff and Brexit

The recent vote in the UK House of Commons to reject the EU Withdrawal Agreement may result in additional concern for EU staff and their employers in the life sciences sector.

Based on our experience of providing support to organisations in this area, including running briefing sessions for EU nationals, we think there are four key messages to get across in this context:

  • Reassurance– the Government has confirmed that it will run the Settlement Scheme (the Scheme that will effectively protect the rights of EU nationals currently residing in the UK) for EU nationals and their family members who are residing in the UK on or before 29 March 2019 (ie, Brexit day), even in a no deal scenario. So irrespective of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the rights of EU nationals and their family members currently in the UK should be preserved.  The Government has confirmed this week that no fee will be payable for applications under the Settlement Scheme (although a £65 fee will still be payable (to be later reimbursed) for applications made during the current pilot phase which opened on 21 January).   
  • Recruitment– the risk of a no-deal Brexit may have increased. It is not clear what immigration system the Government will operate for EU nationals who wish to come into the UK from 30 March 2019 in a no deal scenario, although it is likely that existing rules will apply in the short-term. Importantly, the transition period that would run until 31 December 2020 which has been agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement would not apply. Employers who have identified a specific EU national for a role, or who have recruitment processes involving EU nationals underway, should where practicable plan to ensure that EU nationals are appointed and resident in the UK by 29 March 2019, or as soon as possible thereafter, in case of a no-deal Brexit.
  • Workforce planning– it is sensible for organisations to identify the areas where they tend to recruit a significant number of EU nationals, the potential risks associated with additional recruitment barriers and costs which may come into play, and actions that can be taken to mitigate these risks.
  • Sponsor licence applications and compliance – based on the recent Immigration White Paper, it seems likely that the future immigration system will involve an extension in some form of the current points based system to EU nationals. This would mean that all employers who wish to recruit EU nationals would need to register as sponsors. Getting ahead of the curve and applying now for a sponsor licence may be a prudent step – although there is no guarantee this will be required. Furthermore, the consequences for existing sponsors of having their licence revoked as a result of compliance failures may be prove to be more serious in the post-Brexit world. So ensuring a high level of compliance may be more important than ever.

The Mills & Reeve immigration team can help in advising on Brexit-related immigration issues, providing support for EU staff, and assisting with sponsor licence issues. Please get in touch with Alex Russell if your organisation requires any advice in this area.

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