Brexit: what next for EEA workers?

Insights / / Brexit: what next for EEA workers?

The UK has finally left the EU and the Government plans to have a deal in place by the end of 2020. What does this mean for EEA workers already in the UK and what will happen next?

What will happen?

Initially, there will be no significant change.  EEA and EU nationals will still be able to travel to the UK to live and work until the end of a transition period on 31 December 2020. However, the UK Government has introduced a compulsory Settlement Scheme for all EU nationals, who must register before 30 June 2021. The application process, through a smartphone app, is thankfully fairly simple, with most applications granted following a straightforward check of National Insurance records. Those who, at the time of the application, have lived in the UK for 5 years will be granted settled status. Those with less residence will be granted pre-settled status and should then apply for settled status once the 5 year period has been completed.

From 1 July 2021 all EEA citizens resident in the UK must prove they hold pre-settled or settled status.  Until then, their EEA passport or national ID card will be enough to confirm their legal status. Any non EEA family members of EEA citizens must also apply by this deadline. The only exemptions are Irish citizens and EEA citizens who were previously granted Indefinite Leave to Remain.  Those who obtained an EEA permanent residence card will also need to apply, unless they have become a British citizen in the meantime. 

Will EEA workers need a visa?

After 1 January 2021 EEA citizens will be subject to Immigration Regulations. This means that employers will be required to sponsor them for a Tier 2 visa, for which they must have a Home Office Sponsor Licence. The good news for employers is that the Government proposes to simplify the rules by removing the need for a “resident labour” test and lowering the skills qualification threshold. However, the new rules will not extend to semi-skilled or manual work. This is potentially catastrophic for employers in the healthcare, hospitality, agriculture and construction sectors, which traditionally have used EEA workers in lower skilled jobs. There is also an English language requirement for a Tier 2 visa, which will probably be kept.

How does this affect Offshore workers ?

Workers based solely offshore are not subject to the rules requiring employer sponsorship. Instead, they are granted a visa that allows them to work offshore and spend time on the UK mainland during non-work periods. Any worker who is not a UK national must show the Border Official a letter from their employer detailing the nature and duration of their work and details of the accommodation arrangements. Family members may join them and they will usually be issued with a visa for up to twelve months. Some nationalities must apply for the visa before they travel to the UK. Work, of any sort, is not permitted on the UK mainland.

What should employers do?

From 1 July 2021, an EEA passport will not, alone, be accepted as a “Right to Work” document and a worker who has not registered with the settlement scheme will, technically, be working unlawfully.  If caught, the worker could be removed from the UK and the employer slapped with a heavy fine, which could be potentially embarrassing as the Home Office now publishes a list of firms caught employing people without a visa.  Employers should review their staff files to ensure that all their EEA workers have registered with the settlement scheme by that date. They should also seriously consider obtaining a Home Office Sponsor Licence.

There is, however, a small beacon of hope. During the transition period the Government will, hopefully, reach an agreement over the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Senior EU negotiators have stated that Free Movement of both goods and workers remains on the table, while the UK Government is suggesting that it will accept a “hard” Brexit if no suitable agreement can be reached. However, given the potential economic costs the UK may be inclined to give way, at least partially.  Come what may, the next few months will be very interesting . 

Ince can provide help with the EU Settlement Scheme, Sponsor Licences, Right to Work checks and Tier 2 visas, along with a wide range of other Immigration issues. We can also organise training and workshops to increase awareness amongst staff.  

For the purposes of this article, the terms “EU” and “EEA” are interchangeable.

Marta Mendiondo

Marta Mendiondo Head of Immigration

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