The UK’s exit from the EU on 31st January 2020 will not only impact on a business’ ability to recruit EU staff but it will also restrict the availability of EU nationals to freely enter the UK to live and work as well as restricting UK nationals from living and working in the EU.
Given that an exit deal has been agreed between the UK and the EU, there is slightly less uncertainty for EU nationals and employers. Assuming that the withdrawal agreement will be ratified by both the UK and the EU, it is now likely that the UK will leave the EU with a transition period in place until 31st December 2020. During this transition period, the current status quo will be maintained with free movement of EU workers to the UK and UK workers to the EU.
In terms of the treatment of EU nationals who are already living and working in the UK, they will have until 30th June 2021 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to ensure that they can continue living and working in the UK. Under this free scheme, EU nationals residing in the UK before 31st December 2020 will be eligible for “settled” status when they have been continuously resident for five years or more. This will give them the right to live and work in the UK indefinitely. Those EU nationals who do not have five years’ continuous residence can apply for “pre-settled” status, giving them the right to remain in the UK until they have accrued the full five years’ residence, at which point they can apply for settled status. It is advisable for all businesses who employ EU nationals to encourage them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme so that they can safeguard their immigration status and continue to live and work in the UK.
For organisations wishing to take on EU nationals from 1st January 2021, whilst the detail of the new immigration regime is still awaited, it is expected that such individuals will be subject to the same immigration controls as those wishing to come to the UK from outside the EU (i.e. there will be no special treatment for EU citizens). For businesses that are heavily reliant on EU nationals and who are not already a licensed sponsor under the points-based system and registered with the UK Visas and Immigration, you should consider if you need to obtain a sponsor licence otherwise it could pose a risk to your businesses’ ability to operate.