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How will Brexit affect my staff?

UK employers can take steps now to better prepare and protect themselves from the potential impact of Brexit when it comes to their most valuable asset – their staff.

When will the new rules be introduced?

The UK stopped being a member of the European Union on 31 January 2020. We’re now in a Brexit transition (or “implementation”) period that will last until at least 1 January 2021, while the EU and UK try to negotiate a new trade agreement.

During the transition period, the UK will continue to be subject to EU rules and be in the Single Market and Customs Union. Existing rules concerning the free movement of people from EU countries in the UK will remain. 

A key Brexit-related challenge many UK businesses face concerns recruiting and retaining staff from EU countries. It’s more of an issue in UK sectors such as hospitality, healthcare, food production, retail, and construction, which employ a higher percentage of workers from EU countries.

And with the UK government stating it wants to introduce an “Australia-style points-based immigration system”, to enable the UK to attract “the brightest and the best”, critics question whether it could impact UK employers who need unskilled or low-skilled workers from overseas.

Which of my employees could Brexit affect?

Business owners should identify which of their employees Brexit will affect. This could include:

  • Employees from EU countries who are not naturalised UK citizens.
  • Employees who are UK nationals but have family members, a spouse or partner from an EU country who aren’t naturalised UK citizens.
  • Students from an EU country working in your business on a work placement.

Although it may be more obvious in some cases, small businesses should speak to their employees to find out who will be affected by UK immigration rule changes that will come into force when the transition period finishes. You may not know that one of your employee’s partners will be affected, for example.

What if an employee from an EU country wants to stay working for my business?

They must apply to continue to live in the UK after 31 December 2020 if they’re from:

  • an EU country (except Ireland)
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway or
  • Switzerland.

The UK government has developed the EU Settlement Scheme for EU citizens living in the UK who wish to apply for “settled status” for themselves and their family. If successful, they can continue to live and work in the UK for as long as they like.

Employees who are Irish citizens or who have indefinite leave to remain in the UK don’t need to apply. However, their family members will, if they’re from outside the UK and Ireland and don’t have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

What is the EU Settlement Scheme?

UK Employees from an EU country (except Ireland), Iceland, Liechtenstein Norway or Switzerland must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021, to find out if they will be granted “settled” or “pre-settled” status.

  • Settled status will be given to those who have lived continuously in the UK for five years and they will be able to remain in the UK indefinitely.
  • Pre-settled status will be given to those who have not yet lived in the UK for five continuous years. Once they have lived in the UK for five years, they will be able to apply for settled status.

The application process can be done via a mobile device or computer and there’s no charge. An employee’s rights will be determined by their status, but they’ll normally be able to apply for citizenship 12 months after achieving settled status.

What if UK employees need to travel to work in the EU?

From 1 January 2021, you may need to show additional support to UK-based employees who need to travel to the EU to work for you. They’ll need to apply for visas and permits in EU countries, even if they’re working there only for a few days.

If you employ people who live in an EU country (except Ireland), Iceland, Liechtenstein Norway or Switzerland and they need to travel to the UK for meetings or training, from 1 January 2021, they’ll need to comply with the UK’s new business visitor rules.

If you want someone from an EU country (except Ireland), Iceland, Liechtenstein Norway or Switzerland to move to the UK to come and work for you, from 1 January 2021, they’ll be subject to the same migration restrictions as others. And, new rules could mean they need to be earning at least £25k a year, while there could also be minimum skills-levels requirements for longer-term visas (others may be able to get a one-year temporary visa).

Crucially, UK employers will need to ask for evidence of settled status, pre-settled status or a visa before taking on new employees.

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Checklist: What practical steps should I take?

Many people don’t like change, especially significantly change, when there can be serious implications for them. Employers need to be supportive. Sound management and communication is essential if you are to overcome any issues Brexit creates for your business and make the most of any opportunities that come your way.

The checklist below covers some of the practical steps you can follow to ensure a smooth and supportive process. 

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Download: Preparing for Brexit Through Workforce Planning (CIPD)

CIPD (the Chartered Institute of Personal and Development) have published detailed guidance to help you adapt your workforce planning in light of the UK leaving the EU. You can download the Preparing for Brexit Through Workforce Planning (CIPD) ebook below. The CIPD website also features a Brexit hub, offering latest news and other resources.  

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