Existing workers and new hires pre Brexit
For the moment, the law remains unchanged and EU nationals can continue to move to the UK and take up employment without the need for a visa. This will likely continue until the UK formally leaves the EU, which could be some time away.
Whilst several key figures in the UK Government have indicated that once the UK leaves the EU the status of EU nationals already living and working in the UK will not change, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May has said the status of existing workers will be decided during the Brexit negotiations and will depend on reciprocal arrangements being made for UK nationals living in the EU.
While, on the face of it, this may offer some reassurances that EU national employees will be protected from the consequences of Brexit, some key questions remain unanswered:
- What about non EU nationals, currently living and working in the UK on the basis of their relationship with an EU national?
- Will protection be extended to all EU nationals living and working in the UK at the time the UK leaves EU, or will it be restricted to those in the country on the date of the Referendum or the date the UK formally triggers the mechanism to leave the EU (Article 50)?
- Until legislation is passed (and currently there is no guarantee it will be), there is and will continue to be a great deal of uncertainty for businesses with EU members of staff. We are recommending that long term residents, with more than 5 years residence in the UK, investigate whether they may be eligible for permanent residence as this can lead to UK citizenship, which will protect their right to work in the UK.
Hiring post Brexit
The position after the UK leaves the EU is less clear and there are a variety of options that may be available depending on negotiations with the EU:
- The UK could join the European Economic Area countries in order to retain access to the single market. Although this has been ruled out by several Government figures it will remain an option during negotiations. If this was to happen, this would likely require the UK to agree to the principle of free movement of workers, and very little would change in terms of hiring EU nationals.;
- The UK could leave the single market and require EU nationals to meet the same visa requirements as non EU nationals. This would likely mean an increase in Tier 2 visa applications and could also involve a new points based visa similar to the old Tier 1 (General) scheme.
- The UK could enter into separate trade agreements, and visa rules, with particular countries from across the world
What to do now?
At this stage we recommend businesses take this opportunity to review their current workforce and identify employees who may be affected by any potential changes. Those employees may wish to consider whether they will be entitled to British citizenship before the UK leaves the EU and whether they wish to pursue this as an option to protect their status.
Unfortunately, until more is known about the position post Brexit there will be a degree of uncertainty, but we will issue further bulletins as the position becomes clearer.
Another area which will be significantly impacted by Brexit will be Employment law. If you have not already done so you may wish to subscribe to our specialist Employment law team's E-Bulletin here to help stay up to date with any changes.
If you would like advice on how Brexit could impact on your current workforce, or the steps you can take to protect their right to work in the UK please get in touch.