An end to freedom of movement? A glimpse into post-Brexit immigration

The Prime Minister announces new post-Brexit immigration proposals and promises to end freedom of movement once and for all.

At the Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister revealed new immigration reforms post Brexit that, amongst other things, would limit the number of low skilled workers entering the UK. In her speech the Prime Minister announced that the new plans will put an end to freedom of movement once and for all, reducing immigration to sustainable levels as previously promised.

The full regime is yet to be specified but the headline proposals announced are: 

  • For tourists: security and criminal records checks would be carried out before visits, similar to the prior authorisation process in the US;
  • Only high skilled workers are to be prioritised under the new regime. Under the current system for non EU applicants a minimum salary level of £30,000 is required to fall under this category. It is unclear whether the same minimum salary level will be required under the new rules, but it was announced there will be a minimum level;
  • There will be no preferential treatment given to EU citizens over the rest of the world in terms of immigration to the UK;
  • Successful high skilled applicants would be allowed to bring their immediate family with them to the UK, provided that they are sponsored by their future employer.

The announcement has been met with alarm from the British Retail Consortium and other industry bodies who say that any immigration policy should be based on the needs of the economy. The argument from the government is that UK workers should now have the opportunity to fill low skilled roles.

This is an important development for any businesses who utilise EU workers for low skilled or seasonal work. After the proposed reforms come into force this could have a massive impact for lots of employers who may face a labour shortage.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) estimated 75% of EU nationals working full-time in the UK at the moment would be ineligible for work if the recommendations were applied. The IPPR found that the restaurant and hotels industry would be hit hardest with 97% of new EU nationals ineligible for a work visa under the new regime. This is closely followed by the transport, storage and retail sectors.

The proposals follow the final report issued by the Migration Advisory Committee which the cabinet has recently agreed, and can be found here.

EU nationals who are currently living in the UK, will be entitled to apply for ‘settled status’ if they have been in the UK for five or more years. Those who have not been here for as long as five years, will have to apply for ‘pre-settled’ status. Once implemented, the application process may be online or through an app; meaning individuals will not have to hand over their original documents, at times not having access to them for long periods of time. Applicants will need to provide information confirming their identity, eligibility and suitability for a work visa. EU nationals who arrive in the UK during the transition period between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 20120 will be required to register within three months of their arrival in the UK however the specifics of any registration scheme have yet to be announced.

For UK employers, preparation during this time is the key. UK employers should be looking to identify those EU nationals currently in their employment. Employers should aim to know when EU nationals arrived in the UK and if they intend to apply for a work visa. Employers should be taking steps now to advise current employees on the proposed changes to immigration, how this may affect them, deadlines for submitting applications and what steps employees may need to take to ensure their right to work in the UK continues. In the longer-term, employers should also look to review recruitment plans. Application processes should be assessed to ensure an employer receives the information they require about an individuals’ right to work in the UK.

A White Paper setting out the full details is promised to follow soon with the changes expected to be in place by 2021 once the transition period for Britain’s exit from the EU is complete. The changes will apply to new EU immigrants only.

For more information about any of the above or for specific advice please call 0141 303 1100 and ask to speak to a member of our specialist employment law team.

Our employment law team will be running seminars across all of our offices in November 2019. One of which will deal with post-Brexit immigration changes and how employers tackle issues such as workforce planning. These training seminars are free and you can sign up here, however spaces are limited.

This article was co-written by Laura Roddy. 

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