EU nationals play an important role in the UK workforce. We know employers are concerned about retention of existing employees and whether their ability to recruit in the future will be hindered.

Current position

Whilst the Brexit deal still needs to be signed and “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, a deal has been struck on some key points.

The cut-off date for Brexit will be 29 March 2019. EU free movement rights will continue in full until this date. Employers can recruit EU nationals as normal until then.

After this there will be a transition period until 31 December 2020 during which EU nationals can come freely to the UK, but some form of registration will be required.

From 1 January 2021 a new immigration system will be in place. We still don’t know what this will look like. The Government’s White Paper regarding an Immigration Bill has been delayed and at the time of writing this article had still not been published. The Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”) published its interim report in March 2018, but this provides few clues.

Any EU nationals living in the UK lawfully, before 29 March 2019, will be allowed to remain here. They will need to document their stay by 1 July 2021. Those who have been resident in the UK for five years will be able to apply for a new settled status. Those who have not been here that long will need to complete a registration, with a view to then achieving settled status when they complete the five year period. Close family members will be able to join them in the UK.

Whilst the Government has reiterated that EU nationals do not need to apply for permanent residence, many are still choosing to do so. This may be because they wish to become British citizens before we leave the EU (In which case, under current naturalisation rules, they are required to hold a permanent residence document first). Or it may be because they are concerned that the volume of applications to be processed means there are likely to be delays in the new settled status being awarded and they want the certainty of having permanent residence documentation, which will allow later applications to be fast tracked.

What can employers do to support their EU national workforce?

The priority must be ensuring they know they are valued and that you wish to retain them. Employers do however need to be careful about any guidance they provide. Immigration advice is regulated and it is an offence to provide immigration advice if you are not qualified to do so.

A good start would be to share this article and to point employees to the wealth of information available online, including the government website: www.gov.uk/guidance/status-of-eu-nationals-in-the-uk-what-you-need-to-know.

If you wish to go further, then you may be interested in the in-house seminar offered by Birketts, which provides information to EU nationals about what is happening, what their options are, explains what we would do in certain typical situations and sets out in generic terms how to apply for permanent residence and naturalisation as a British citizen.

Employers should consider whether they would support employees with the cost of the applications required to secure their status in the UK. Applications for permanent residence cost £65 per person. The fee for naturalisation is £1,330. Before applying for naturalisation employees will need to have passed the Life in the UK test, which costs £50.

We are still waiting for confirmation of the fees for the new “settled status”. This should be free for anyone who already has permanent residence and no more than the cost of a UK passport (£75.50) for others.

Recruitment from 2021

The MAC acknowledges that employers who are trying to plan ahead are being stymied by uncertainty about the new regime. However, the tone of their report suggests any new system should not be sympathetic to those who pay low wages, or who fail to invest in training. We anticipate that the employers who will thrive under any new system will be those who have started taking steps now to become an “employer of choice”. A good start might be joining the Best Employers employee engagement survey: www.edp24.co.uk/business/ best-employers.

If you have not already done so, we also recommend exploring how you can take advantage of the apprenticeship levy to create new training opportunities in your business.