The “B” word is back - Brexit pandemic planning for the new immigration system

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On 18 May, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill sailed through its second reading in the House of Commons by a majority of 351 to 252. The bill marks a small milestone in the UK’s journey towards the end of the Brexit transition period and into the uncharted waters of a new UK immigration system. If implemented, the bill will end free movement by repealing the EEA Regulations.

The second reading of the bill acts as an important reminder of the ticking Brexit “clock”. Whilst businesses are tied up with the immediate effects and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, they must be mindful not to forget the looming horizon of a post-Brexit Britain. Three simple steps taken now, can ensure businesses are prepared for January 2021:

1. Perform an analysis of your workforce to identify positions which you will struggle to recruit for from January 2021

A key concern for many employers is the detrimental impact Brexit will have on accessing key talent from the EU. To balance this concern, employers should perform an analysis of the positions which they believe are vulnerable to applicant or skills shortages. This will help establish an understanding of how reliant the employer may be on the new UK immigration system. Any use of the new immigration regime will in turn incur both a delay to onboarding new starters but more critically, an increased cost which may need to be budgeted for now as part of yearly financial planning. Furthermore, for some businesses, this may mean they must now grapple with the intricacies of the UK Immigration Rules, having previously not needed to. Identifying potential usage now can mean the necessary training and processes can be put in place for HR teams to equip themselves with the know how to enter 2021.

2. Ensure you are adequately supporting your existing EU work force with their applications under the EU Settlement Scheme

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) opened in January 2019 and, from the outset, placed the onus on individuals to make their applications. This has led some employers to take a “back seat” approach to the scheme, providing no support to their employees. At a time when retaining talented employees is as important as ever, providing some basic resources to employees to guide themselves and their family through the EUSS process can act as a valued lifeline to employees. The support can be as small as providing a Brexit intranet page with tailored FAQs and guidance on where to go to find further information. Without such support, some may be questioning whether they wish to stay in the UK or leave for a more welcoming country.

3. If you do not have a sponsor licence, consider applying for one now

A sponsor licence enables a business to sponsor an individual for a UK work visa. Currently, this is only required for businesses who wish to hire non-EU nationals. However, if freedom of movement ends on 31 December, a sponsor licence will be necessary for any employer wishing to hire an individual from outside the UK (where they have no other permission to work in the UK).The application process for a sponsor licence can take a number a of weeks to prepare, submit and receive approval from the government. This has led them to encourage employers, who believe they may require a licence from 2021, to not delay in making an application. Upon issuance, the licence will be granted to the company for four years and can be used to sponsor multiple individuals for a UK work visa. By securing a licence now, the employer will be in the optimal position to start sponsoring EU and non-EU nationals, come 2021, if required to do so.

Ultimately, the Bill has some way to go before it becomes law, but by preparing now this can put a business in the optimal position for a smooth transition into 2021.