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Industry not prepared for post-Brexit immigration changes

Business groups and UK Ministers are still raising concerns that companies are not prepared for the changes following the UK’s departure from the European Union. This process has been compounded by the challenges for HR departments in dealing with the pandemic.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. A transition period was in place until 31 December 2020, during that time there were no practical changes to immigration between the UK and Europe.

From 1 January 2021, free movement between the UK and the European Economic Area (EEA), apart from Republic of Ireland nationals, became a thing of the past and a new points-based immigration system is being implemented. EU nationals will now be subject to the same visa requirements as their non-EU counterparts.

David Collins, Business Development Manager at Redline Group, looks at some of the key areas for business and how this may affect the talent pool, and the resources available to answer your queries.

An estimated 3.6 million EU-born migrants lived in the UK in 2019, making up 5.5 per cent of the UK population, while non-EU born people made up 8.9 per cent (ONS 2020). The biggest impact for many employers will be on talent and labour markets, especially in the high-tech sector where it is not as buoyant as employers would like. Future uncertainty is likely to affect employer planning, and research from EY found that only 29 per cent of companies in the UK and around the world felt they had a ‘good understanding’ of the implications of the end of the transition period.

“Good information and communication are key to the existing workforce, employers who are looking to retain or recruit non-UK citizens will need to familiarise themselves rapidly with the new requirements and processes so they can support their people and stay compliant.” says David.

“An employer should already have completed an audit of their employees, and hopefully have a grasp of their European contingent as well as devising strategies for their current staff, and a recruitment and talent-retention plan for 2021 whilst ensuring staff understand ‘settled status’ and the process of application.”

Key areas to consider:

  • EEA national working in the UK
  • UK nationals working in the EU
  • EEA nationals who seek to move to the UK
  • International commuters and Frontier Workers
  • Business travel
  • Points-based Immigration System
  • Professional qualifications
  • Future talent

Auditing the Work Force  

Employers should have conducted an audit, to ensure they hold accurate information on an employee’s nationality (including dual nationality), their current location, length of residence in the UK or EEA country.

When the pandemic hit and most businesses moved to home working, a significant number of EU nationals choose to go and work from home in another EU country, people just took decisions to get to where they needed to be, and businesses were very sympathetic to that process. Some employees may now find they are not covered by the terms of the EU Settled Status Scheme as they have been absent for too long a period.

EEA nationals who have been based in the UK permanently but have been on secondment overseas can still apply for settled status or pre-settled status.

An excellent legal guide to post -Brexit immigration has been created by the CIPD, click the link.

EEA Nationals Residing in the UK

Under the withdrawal agreement, all EU nationals (except Irish nationals) who were residing in the UK on 31 December 2020 are required to apply under the EU settlement scheme or pre-settled status by 30 June 2021.

UK employers are unable to apply for Settled Status on behalf of EU employees or force their staff to make an application. Under UK law it is the responsibility of the individual to make the application. All employers can do is support and help employees in a pro-active manner.

Government guidance states there will be no changes to how employers check an EEA national’s right to work in the UK until 30 June 2021. Employers will also not need to make retrospective checks for existing employees.

Under the EU Settlement Scheme, EU citizens and their families who have been in the UK for five years can apply for permanent settlement and may then apply for British citizenship 12 months later. Those who have been here for less time may be eligible for pre-settled status.

This means that EU employees can remain in the UK and continue working in their existing jobs. However, employees need to make sure they submit their application in time.

International Commuters / Frontier Workers

EEA national frontier works (i.e., Individuals who live in one EEA country and commute to the UK for work) may not qualify for settled status. Frontier workers who have already worked in the UK by 31 December 2020 can apply for a permit to continue this method of working.

UK Nationals residing in the EEA

The agreement between the UK and the EU also applies to UK nationals living in the EU prior to the end of the transition. EEA countries are expected to introduce similar schemes and people will have broadly the same rights to work, study and access public services and benefits as before the UK left the EU.

Living in Europe guidance

UK Nationals entering the EEA to work from 1 January 2021

UK nationals entering the EEA to work will be subject to the immigration system in their respective destination country.

New Immigration System: EEA nationals entering the UK from 1 January 2021

The Government has introduced a single system to cover all skilled workers. The UK’s points-based system treats EU and non-EU citizens equally. Irish citizens can continue to freely enter, live and work in the UK.

Employers need a sponsor licence to hire most eligible employees from outside the UK. Applying for a Home Office sponsor licence takes time and requires the implementation of new systems and procedures.

Without a Home Office sponsor licence employers won't be able to recruit non-EEA workers under a Tier 2 (General) visa and, will not be able to recruit EEA workers unless they came to the UK prior to December 2020 and have Permanent Residence, Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme or Pre-settled Status.

To hire someone from outside the UK, excluding Irish citizens, the job must meet the minimum skill and salary thresholds:

  • the minimum skill level will be set at RQF3 (equivalent to A level).
  • the minimum salary threshold will be the higher of £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ for that job – some employees may be paid less than £25,600, for example, if their job is in a shortage occupation.
  • any applicants from outside the UK must also meet English language requirements.

Though the high-tech arena initially raised concerns over the Post-Brexit migration some commentators believe the industry may in the long-term gain in terms of skills and experience. Research found almost a quarter of top earners in the UK are migrants. A study by academics at the University of Warwick's Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (Cage), which analysed anonymised tax returns collected by HMRC, found that of the top 1 per cent of UK earners – or those earning more than £128,000 per year – 24 per cent had moved to the country as an adult. This was despite migrants making up just 15 per cent of the UK population.

In terms of sectors, the data showed that finance, medical, technology, and professional sport had the highest proportion of migrant workers among their top 1 per cent of earners.

UK business traveller to the EEA

Though it seems a long way off with the travel restrictions due to COVID-19, business travel will return and become more complicated.

As well as the usual measures all travellers need to take, there are extra considerations if travelling to the EU for business. After 1 January 2021 permissible business activities will not require a visa.

Employers will need to monitor the duration of time UK business travellers spend in the EEA, as stays in the Schengen area must be limited to 90 days in a 180-day period. Travellers will also need six months’ validity on their passport before travelling.

The trade agreement lists permitted visa-free activities for short-term business visitors between the EU and UK. These activities include “attending meetings or conferences, or [engaging] in consultation with business associates.” Also permitted are research and design, marketing research, the receiving of training, attending trade fairs and exhibitions, sales trips (although “short-term business visitors shall not engage in making direct sales to the general public”), purchasing, after-sales service, commercial transactions, tourism, and translation and interpretation.

Changes to the Right to Medical Treatment

The European Health Insurance Card guarantees EU citizens the right to state-provided medical treatment anywhere in the EU plus the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland. UK citizens’ existing EHICs will continue to be accepted by EU countries until they expire, after which they can apply for a new Global Health Insurance Card, although details have yet to be announced.

Travel Advice

Professional qualifications

The Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive is an EU-wide directive that allows professional regulators in all member states to automatically recognise professional qualifications gained in other member states and grants entry to all relevant professional registers.

The directive no longer applies to the UK, but the UK government has decided to continue recognising qualifications gained in the EEA for at least two years after the transition period ended.

This is not reciprocal so employers will need to check staff professional qualifications will be recognised in the EU by nations regulators if these are required whilst providing services.  

Professional regulatory bodies are working with the UK government to review future registration requirements and decide what they will be from January 2023.

Future Talent Pipeline

The UK is a hub of technology innovation and has historically led the EU in terms of investment: VCs invested over £30 billion in UK companies from 2017 to 2019, more than France and Germany combined over the same period.

Studies found approximately 10 per cent of workers in the UK high-tech sector hail from the EU. Restrictions imposed by the tier 2 visa cap, which restricts the number of skilled workers applying for work in the country to 20,700 annually, presents issues for the engineering and high-tech sector when undertaking technical recruitment. 

Therefore, hiring exclusively from the EU is unlikely to confer any real practical benefit, meaning casting the net wider are real possibilities. The world will become the UK talent pool, and if individuals meet visa requirements, the best and the brightest, from anywhere can come and work.

“Employers are likely to have to increase salaries to attract staff”, says David, “the talent pool will be restricted, though the best employers will continue to introduce more inclusive recruitment practices, expand training and build on their employee offer through non-financial benefits. Likewise, measures introduced due to COVID-19 such as the provision of flexible working will help businesses to both recruit and retain the people they need.”

Redline Group have provided exceptional professional talent for the European Technology industries since 1982. Our team includes engineers themselves and recruitment professionals with many years’ experience in technology and engineering recruitment, meaning we are able to provide the knowledge, contacts and advice you need.   

For more information regarding how we can help your business grow, contact Redline Group on 01582 450054 or email


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