In current pre-Brexit times, hiring EU talent is simple. Thanks to free movement (the EU law principle which permits nationals of EU member states to relocate around Europe for work without prior permission), nothing is required for an EU national to accept a position in the UK. Article by Gary McIndoe, immigration solicitor – Latitude Law.
However, Brexit will mark the end of free movement, and how quickly that affects hiring new staff is dependent on the manner in which the UK leaves the EU.
In the event of no-deal Brexit, free movement will end immediately on 30 March. While EU nationals may continue travelling visa-free for visits to the UK of up to 3 months, to remain here longer (for example, to work), they will require status under a new category to be called European Temporary Leave to Remain (ETLTR).
This will be a formal, fee-paying application, effectively adding a barrier between UK employers and a potential EU workforce. The name of this route highlights its temporary nature; ETLTR is only expected to be available for a short period after Brexit (until December 2020), and thereafter all migrants – EU nationals or otherwise – will be subject to a new skills-based immigration system, details yet to be finalised, scheduled to take effect from January 2021.
No-deal is the worst-case scenario for employers, and the Government still intends to secure support for a deal based on the Withdrawal Agreement before 29 March 2019. If that is achieved, a more relaxed transition from free movement to the 2021 skills-based immigration system is anticipated. Unlike a no-deal scenario, the transitional settled status scheme would make it much easier for EU talent to continue relocate to the UK visa-free until December 2020.
Any new arrivals by that date would be able to apply for pre-settled status, leading to eventual settlement in the UK following completion of 5 years’ employment in the UK. Although no firm details for the ETLTR application have yet been released, it is expected that a pre-settled status application would be cheaper, easier, and more attractive for new arrivals from the EU.
In either case, from January 2021 the new skills-based immigration system will apply. This will bring EU migration in line with entrants from outside the EU, who are subject to more stringent requirements relating to work opportunities. Unlike under free movement, the settled status scheme, or even ETLTR, from 2021 a prospective employer will need to be licensed to employ EU workers, and the proposed job must meet skill and salary thresholds. These apply from recruitment through to settlement, making it much harder to employ European talent.
From 2021, employers will also need to be aware of the increased fees involved in employing migrant workers. Sponsoring employers must pay for their licence, each certificate of sponsorship they assign to a worker, and the Immigration Skills Charge (a type of levy paid for employing non-UK staff), which can add thousands of pounds to the cost of hiring each worker.
The increases in fees trickle down from employer to employee. Applications for current EU migrants are £65 if they wish (they are not legally required) to apply for a residence document. Those fees were originally replicated under the settled status scheme, but were scrapped in January 2019 as a concession towards the UK’s existing EU residents. However, a no-deal Brexit would lead to ETLTR replacing settled status, and ETLTR applications are expected to have mandatory fees of at least £65, in addition to EU nationals becoming immediately liable for payment the Immigration Health Surcharge (a £400 per year charge for access to the UK’s health system). From 2021, the new skills-based immigration system will likely have charges around £1,000 for those relocating to the UK for work, in addition to the health surcharge mentioned above. Fees for EU nationals therefore will increase sharply, which is likely to make the UK job market a far less attractive proposition.