Guides & Advice

Brexit: the final countdown to secure your workforce

Published: 13th October 2020
Area: Corporate & Commercial
In just 11 weeks, the UK is set to leave the EU, meaning now is the time for businesses to make any final preparations.

On 31 December 2020, free movement will come to an end: a cause for concern for sectors such as construction, hospitality and leisure that rely on EU migrant labour.

Once, EU citizens are treated equally to non-EU citizen under the new immigration system, those businesses whose workforces are made up of a number of lower skilled migrant workers will be faced with challenges, with many ‘low skilled’ job roles simply not meeting the skills level for sponsorship.

Hospitality and leisure will be particularly vulnerable to these Brexit-related difficulties, after having already been hit hard by the impacts of COVID-19.

However, it is possible, and vital, to prepare for these changes, including:

  • Ensuring the business has for a skilled worker sponsor licence to hire skilled workers from outside the UK
  • Supporting to regulate the status of the business’ current EU workforce under the EU Settlement Scheme
  • Bringing forward recruitment plans to hire Europeans, where possible, before the transition period ends

Read the guidance for employers recruiting from outside the UK from 2021

Throughout the Brexit process, the government has not been entirely consistent with its messaging. However, in February, a policy statement on the new immigration system was announced, with a ‘Further Details’ statement then published in July 2020, which mapped out more clearly what the post-Brexit system would look like and how it would function. Now the Home Office has launched a nationwide marketing campaign to reach businesses to ensure they are ready for the introduction of the UK’s new immigration system.

Nevertheless, businesses seeking to apply for a sponsor licence may face considerable delays, with the Home Office overrun with applications and working through a significant backlog. Therefore, it is best to start this process as soon as possible.

Tijen Ahmet, our head of business immigration, said: “It’s getting close to the line now and the reality is that any business that employs Europeans from next year will find themselves in a tough position if they haven’t got the necessary sponsor licence and compliance processes in place by now.

“Smaller companies may still be able to secure their workforce ahead of the Brexit date, however larger corporates whose workforces are made up of a high percentage of migrant workers have a tough task ahead of them. The government hasn’t helped this process and with it taking up to six months to obtain a sponsor licence in some cases, even those businesses, which have been proactive risk getting caught out.”

However, businesses should still do everything in their power to secure their European workforces today and before 30 June 2021 - the closure date for the EU Settlement Scheme.

“If businesses want to employ Europeans in future, getting the ball rolling now would be hugely advantageous. Whilst the current system is in place, EU citizens can enter the UK with their EU passport or ID card and begin to work. As of January, that simply won’t be possible.

“There are tough times ahead for us all, especially as the country grapples with the Coronavirus pandemic. The international talent pool is set to become much smaller, however there are steps which can be taken, even in the short term. The worst thing any business can do is bury its head in the sand and think that everything will continue as normal after 1 January 2021– any action is better than no action at all.”

From 1 January 2021 you will need to have a sponsor licence to hire skilled workers from outside the UK

If you think you’ll need a licence, and do not already have one, you need to apply for one now.

For assistance and advice with applying for a sponsor licence, speak to Tijen Ahmet in our business immigration team.

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