BREXIT: What employers should be doing in readiness for the end of free movement on 31 December 2020


On 31 January 2020 the UK left the EU and entered a transition period, during this time the UK remains bound by EU law including the right of freedom of movement within the EU. The transition period will end on 31 December 2020, following which a new immigration system treating EU nationals and non-EU nationals the same is expected to come into force. Our Head of Immigration, Julie Moktadir, has answered some common concerns that many employers have on the ending of free movement and on what they should be doing now.

We wish to employ a French national, are recruitment processes currently the same?

Yes- as we are still in the transition period EU nationals continue to have the right to work freely in the UK under the right of free movement. Recruitment processes, such as right to work checks, therefore remain the same for EU nationals as before Brexit. This remains the case for EU nationals arriving in the UK before 31 December 2020.

How do we employ EU nationals after the end of the transition period?

This will depend on when they arrived in the UK. If they arrived before 31 December 2020, they will be eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme for either settled status, if they have been here over 5 years, or pre-settled status if they have not acquired 5 years in the UK. All EU nationals in the UK before this date must apply to the scheme before 30 June 2021. There is therefore no change to the employment of EU nationals before this date although, they should apply to the scheme before the deadline.

EU nationals arriving from 1 January 2021, will be subject to the same immigration law as non-EU nationals, meaning they will require sponsorship in order to work in the UK. Employers will require a sponsorship licence to sponsor such individuals however, it is not yet clear what this sponsorship will look like. Therefore, when hiring EU nationals after this date, employers should obtain additional documentation to ensure they have the right to work in the UK.

Should we be encouraging EU nationals within our organisation to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme?

There is currently no obligation on employers to check that their employees have applied for status under the scheme and it is the individual’s responsibility to ensure that they do so before the deadline. However, many EU nationals in the UK remain unaware of the requirement to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. There is therefore no harm in reminding employees about the need to do so and the relevant deadlines, however employers should be careful not to provide immigration advice. We are able to provide employers with a draft template letter to send to EU nationals within your organisation, please do get in contact if you would like more information on this.

What should we be doing now to prepare for the end of free movement?

As outlined above, EU nationals entering the UK to work from 1 January 2021 will require sponsorship to do so. It is crucial that employers engage in strategic planning in advance of this date to avoid potential shortages in the workforce. Does your organisation rely on workers from outside of the UK? Is your organisation thinking of expanding? Is there a risk of being a shortage in your workforce?

If you answered yes to any of these questions and believe that the end of free movement will impact your future recruitment needs, you may want to consider applying for a sponsorship licence. If you already have a licence in place, it would be worth increasing your certificate of sponsorship allocation or adding an additional tier to your licence. There is likely to be a surge in applications over the next few months as employers prepare for the introduction of the new immigration system, it is therefore advisable to apply early to avoid delays.

Stone King are able to provide support to employers preparing for the end of free movement. If you are unsure whether you would need a sponsorship licence or want more information about the process, please contact Julie Moktadir.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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