The rights of European nationals currently living and working in the UK has been one of the most high profile aspects of the Brexit process, and it remains a hot topic. The consistent message from UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been that securing the status of, and giving certainty to, European nationals already in the UK, and to UK nationals in the EU, is a priority for the Government. For now, however, there is very little information about the Government’s proposals, and any plans must of course be negotiated with the remaining EU member states. It remains to be seen how these negotiations will ultimately play out.
This leaves any employers with European national employees in an uncertain playing field, with very little to go on in terms of future planning. Despite this, however, there are some key issues that employers can think about now with the aim of making the transition into any new regime as smooth as possible.
Reassurance is key
First and foremost, employers should reassure their European national employees that, for now, nothing has changed – and that there will be no change until Britain formally exits the EU. For many employers, European nationals will play critical roles within the business, and preventing a talent drain will be vital to the business’ future success. At best, little might change for existing European nationals in the future; at worst, being able to retain employees in the interim period will allow the business some time to plan for the future.
How many employees are affected?
Employers should carry out a comprehensive audit of their UK workforce to identify how many European nationals are employed, and what their current immigration status is. This review is essential, both to be able to support affected employees properly, and also to allow the business to assess the impact on future workstreams and skills, and to structure contingency plans for the future.
What sort of assistance might you be able to offer?
Employers should consider what level of support they are willing to offer their European national employees to understand the options available to them and to progress any applications to consolidate their immigration status in the UK. These options will depend on the length of time the employee has lived in the UK and include the employee applying for a registration certificate, a permanent residence certificate or British citizenship. Appointing a ‘go-to’ person with responsibility for dealing with any employee queries may be helpful.
Beware of discrimination
Employers must be careful to ensure that any decisions relating to employment are not discriminatory towards any particular nationality; for example, employers should avoid the temptation to avoid recruiting European nationals simply because of the Brexit uncertainties.
It is also essential that employers are alive to the impact of Brexit on employee relations in the workplace. Employers should review, communicate and give high-level backing to their equality and diversity policy to ensure employees understand their rights and responsibilities not to discriminate or harass other employees, including in relation to another employee’s nationality.
Keep abreast of the Government’s proposals
In principle, the UK and the EU appear to be agreed on the need to secure a reciprocal deal to guarantee the rights of the 3 million or so existing European nationals in the UK, and the 1 million or so British nationals living in the EU. However, there are countless other issues on the table to be considered, not least in this context – matters such as unborn children, and the ability to move, marry, divorce and claim benefits, to name just a few. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that, to date, the Government has not put forward any concrete proposals. Employers should therefore keep a close watching brief to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest information.