Back in January we looked ahead at global mobility and business immigration trends for the year. Now at the halfway point, what are the 2017 mobility trends UK employers and HR teams can expect to be dealing with?

Changes in immigration rules

The expectation is that EU citizens’ rights in the UK will change as a result of Brexit.

The Government has made its initial offer to allow EU citizens residing in the UK to remain in Britain after Brexit on the condition they apply for “settled status”.

The proposal essentially indicates there would be a two tier system operating for EU citizens. One covering those who were resident in the UK prior to a cut-off point, and one for those who arrive after.

The proposal is subject to Brexit negotiations, and may well change in either direction, potentially becoming more or less “generous” to EEA nationals in the UK.

For EU citizens, a decision on Brexit immigration status won’t come soon enough. Considerable numbers of EU citizens have already left the UK since Brexit, largely due to the uncertainty surrounding their future.

Likewise for UK employers of EU nationals, certainty of future policy is critical. Changes to immigration rules are highly likely to impact future recruitment strategies and HR processes, and employers will have to take action, ensuring policies and procedures reflect any new system and requirements.

For example, adjustments may have to be made where employers have relied on low-skilled European workers through the free movement of labour. This is expected to hit sectors such as retail, construction, hospitality, leisure, where there are high proportions of EEA personnel.

We encourage employers to have dialogue with their European workers, to allay concerns and confirm your position in supporting their securing their future in Britain. Ensuring EEA workers understand the final policy and comply with any registration requirement should also be a priority for employers. For example, the existing draft proposals allow a two year grace period for settled status applications to be made. Failure to adhere to this will result in the EU citizen losing their right to remain.

And the UK is not alone in facing fundamental changes to immigration policy. The US travel ban for example is presenting challenges for employers seeking to mobilise workers to the United States from designated countries (Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Yemen, Syria and Libya). WE would expect to see more change nations take an increasingly protectionist stance toward migration.

Data & technology

With organisations’ mobility needs becoming more sophisticated, and with little room for error, delay or additional cost, technology is playing an increasingly influential role in enabling HR and mobility functions to deliver. We are also seeing growing appetite and influence of data.

Organisations are looking to work smarter, to improve cross-functional collaboration, and to empowering HR through enhanced insight and knowledge to manage the growing risks of deploying personnel overseas through a multitude of mobility assignments.

For example, apps are already available for destination information, planning, managing travel and relocation, tracking, tracking, expense logging and more. Chatbots are already being used as first line support for employees on assignment.

Gig economy

The gig economy is not unique to the UK. British employers are competing with other nations to attract the right talent with the right skills on short-term, flexible basis. Access to a lower cost and more agile recruitment model offers obvious commercial benefits for employers.

But current UK immigration policy does not support the level of flexibility and temporary nature inherent to the gig economy. The compliance challenges are also multiple, ensuring for example continued validity of workers.

Despite the challenges of UK immigration rules, the demand for gig workers is growing. Reconciling the gig economy with current UK immigration rules is a fast-developing area, with HR and employers under pressure to explore alternative entry routes for foreign workers who can meet recruitment needs. Against a backdrop of changes in EU citizens’ rights, the challenge will become even more acute.

Demographics

We are seeing shifts in the profile of individuals taking up mobility assignments. This includes more female employees seeking out overseas opportunities. Millennials are also growing in number and influence within the labour market, and bringing with them expectations of international experience as part of their career development.

Organisations are reshaping their mobility programmes to attract and retain millennial talent. Strategically this equates to aligning the mobility function with talent and recruitment.

HR compliance

The latest Home Office figures show over £11.5million in fines were issued to UK employers in the last three months of 2016 for breaches in immigration duties.

The Home Office continues to take a highly visible and vigilant approach to employer compliance through site inspections, resulting in increasing numbers of sponsor licence revocations – removing employer’s permission to hire skilled workers from outside Europe.

So it is business-critical to ensure you are complying with your immigration duties.

As the UK plans its exit from Europe and withdraws from the free movement agreement, changes in UK immigration policy ahead of Brexit will inevitably result in more enforcement duties on employers to encompass the new system(s) for European nationals. Employing European workers post-Brexit will entail some form of compliance requirement on the employer.

In addition, we may also see an increase in Tier 2 sponsor licence applications as employers, faced with a reduced supply of labour from Europe and continued domestic skills shortages, have to look to the global market to recruit skilled workers.

Whatever future immigration policy, the compliance duties on employers will remain onerous, creating potential business risk if not managed correctly and proactively.

Tier 2 costs

Expect more costs in general associated with hiring from overseas as the Government continues to seeks to fund investment in improving the quality and availability of skilled domestic labour.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to double the Immigration Skills Charge on employers of Tier 2 skilled workers from £1,000 to £2,000 per worker per year. The timetable has yet to be announced but employers should be alert to this potentially being on the horizon.