It seems like a very long time ago that we reported on the historic referendum vote to leave the European Union, but unless it's delayed - still possible at the time of writing - the UK is set to leave the EU in just over 3 weeks, on 29th March 2019.
Whilst news headlines have focused on the uncertainty surrounding businesses and how various deals might affect imports, services and production lines, there is another concern that employers should be considering, and that is the human angle. Whilst it's beyond the scope of this article to go into depth, employers must ask themselves:
Can my existing EU workers stay in the UK post-Brexit?
Can I hire new EU workers post-Brexit?
What responsibility do I have to check employees’ eligibility?
Depending on how Britain leaves the EU (and when) the answers to these questions could still change, which is why it's important to make sure you plan for all outcomes and if necessary, take advice from qualified experts.
Currently individuals from the EU are free to enter and work in the UK under the Freedom of Movement principle, which will remain in place until March the 29th, and this could continue during the proposed 'implementation period' to the end of 2020 if a deal is agreed - EU workers could continue to travel to the UK to work without any restrictions during this period, and can apply for Settled Status to be granted leave to remain in the UK after 31st December 2020.
From 2021, a new immigration policy designed to focus on 'in-demand' skills will be introduced in three phases, with the introduction of a new 12-month visa for low-skilled workers where security checks are carried out in advance, whilst applicants for long-stay visas will have to meet minimum salary thresholds.
EU nationals who have accrued 5 years’ continuous residency in the UK can apply for "settled" status, giving them indefinite leave to remain. EU nationals who do not meet the 5 year threshold can apply for this "pre-settled" status, which grants leave to remain in the UK for a further 5 year period (and upgrade for free once they have 5 years' continuous residency).
In the event of a 'no-deal' Brexit, freedom of movement will end on 29 March 2019 - EU nationals who wish to come to the UK after this date will need leave to remain, but during a transition period EU workers can freely travel to the UK for a period of 3 months.
Clearly with the current uncertainty over whether Britain will agree an exit deal, it is difficult to make firm recommendations, but companies with EU workers should be preparing themselves and their staff for:
Applying for Settled Status - how to do it; when it needs to be done.
'No Deal' and it's impact on workers
Managing uncertainty - this can take a toll on morale, performance, and mental health.
Ensuring HR is aware of key differences and can give correct advice.
The bottom line is: Nothing is set in stone yet, and it's impossible to predict what might happen, but by being aware of how many EU staff you have, and what their options are, you can mitigate some of the difficulties posed by Brexit.