On 23 June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) in an EU Referendum. Originally scheduled for 29 March 2019, the date the UK was to officially leave the EU was delayed to 31 January 2020. On this date the UK left the EU to enter into a ‘transitional phase’.
All eyes now looked to 1 January 2021, when this phase was expected to end. further deals with the EU ratified and new immigration laws expected…
…But then March 2020 came along. A global pandemic and nation-wide lockdown gripped the UK.
Social distancing made ongoing negotiation difficult. The UK economy was (and still is) feeling the harsh impact of lockdown. And so, you could be forgiven for thinking Brexit was no longer top priority for the government.
Events from the last few weeks, however, seem to suggest the opposite. The government is now heading towards Brexit full-steam ahead. With this in mind, here are some key things you need to know as to how the ongoing Brexit situation will impact on your business.
Points based immigration
The Government has announced that from 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated the same under a ‘points-based system’. Under this new system non-citizens who seek to work in the UK will need to meet certain criteria before they can be allowed to work in the UK. The end of EU free movement begins on 31 December 2020.
Individuals will need to have at least 70 points. These are made up of 50 mandatory points and 20 tradeable.
Mandatory points will be awarded for areas that include the following:
- having a job offer from a licensed sponsor
- being offered a job above the minimum skill level, which is RQF3 level or equivalent (A-level or equivalent)
- speaking English to an ‘acceptable standard’.
Tradeable points will include:
- if the job provides a salary of at least £25,600 or the ‘going rate’
- if the job is in the health or education sector
- if the job is in a specific shortage occupation.
There will be no overall cap on people who can apply for a visa
These new rules are likely to have an impact upon you if you have come to rely on so-called low-skilled labour from the EU. In particular, there is expected to be a knock-on effect in the hospitality and catering industries. Agricultural operations making use of seasonal workers from overseas will also be affected.
The Government does appear to want to provide a degree of flexibility to tackle these issues. (This is where the tradeable requirements come in). However, you shouldn’t assume that your sector will automatically meet requirements of having a skills shortage. If you’re struggling to source workers, you need to start preparing now.
EU Settlement Scheme
EU nationals currently employed to work in the UK can continue to do so despite Brexit. The Government's EU Settlement Scheme was introduced to allow existing EU nationals residing in the UK to remain indefinitely.
To make use of this scheme, employees must have been in the country by 31 December 2020 despite the deadline for applications being 30 June 2021. This means that you will be able to retain any EU nationals that are already part of your workforce (by 31 December 2020). But they must apply for settled status by 30 June 2021.
You must not exert any unnecessary pressure on individuals or expose them to any other form of detriment if they choose not to make use of the scheme. Existing EU nationals will still be able to live and work in the UK freely until 31st December. This means dismissing employee for being unwilling to apply for settled status is potentially discriminatory.
Instead, you should prepare for what you can do if your EU workers don’t make use of the scheme. You can wait for further government advice or come up with alternative options. We’d recommend doing this now, to deal with any potential gaps in your workforce after 31 December 2020.
As we head into 2021, it remains unclear how many other areas of employment law will be affected as a result of Brexit. To this end, it is important that you keep up to date with all immigration and employment law developments as Brexit progresses. Make sure staff are given all the information they require.