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Brexit and its impact on workforces

EU nationals currently contribute over two million people to the UK workforce.

Government policy regarding immigration and free movement is a rapidly changing area. To keep up-to-date, a regular check of the Brexit preparation pages on gov.uk (www.gov.uk/brexit) or signing up for email alerts (bit.ly/2ky8lzb) is recommended. The House of Commons Library also publishes useful and clearly-written Brexit news items: bit.ly/2lAARk4

Workers: checking the right to stay

The government stated that ‘freedom of movement as it currently stands will end . . . when the UK leaves the EU’. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October, workers will need to take action within a short timeframe. 

Citizens of the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, or those with such a family member, living in the UK before it leaves the EU should check what they need to do in order to stay after Brexit.

For most such workers and their family members, this will involve applying to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), which gives the ability to continue living, working and studying in the UK. However, there is no need to apply where someone has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK. Those with British or Irish citizenship – including ‘dual citizenship’ – do not need to apply.

The EU Settlement Scheme

There are different application deadlines for the EU Settlement Scheme, depending on whether there is a no-deal Brexit or a negotiated settlement. With a no-deal Brexit, the deadline for EUSS applications is 31 December 2020. Otherwise it is 30 June 2021. It is free to apply, and it would be wise to do so as soon as possible. Applications can be made online: bit.ly/2K1PFUk.

Successful applicants will receive either settled or pre-settled status. This is based on how long someone has lived in the UK: it is not a matter of choice. Broadly, settled status is given where someone has lived in the UK for five years continuously, and pre-settled status where someone has lived in the UK for less than this. For either status, applicants should have started living in the UK by 31 December 2020 – or the date the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Either status gives access to public services like the NHS and pensions, and means someone can continue working in the UK, though rights are slightly different for each.

Employers are not obliged to assist, but HMRC’s Employer Toolkit is designed to facilitate employers providing advice and support to relevant staff: bit.ly/2mHoJuI.

Employers: other considerations

The government is currently reviewing arrangements for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens arriving in the UK after Brexit as part of its plans for a future points-based immigration system. But until 31 December 2020, such citizens can continue to enter, live and work in the UK as they do now. For those wanting to stay beyond this, a temporary three-year UK immigration status, European Temporary Leave to Remain, is being planned. Thereafter, application under the points-based system, expected in 2021, would be required.

Employers should be aware of key deadlines and immigration rules applying at any point, as workers inadvertently breaching immigration procedures could become illegal workers. 

Deal or no-deal Brexit, employers should also carry on with normal right to work checks. Further Home Office guidance is expected, clarifying when right to work checks will change. It is not anticipated, however, that there will be any change until 1 January 2021. Employers can check the current position here: bit.ly/2kmc5nD

Businesses trading with the EU

HMRC has advised that, post-Brexit, businesses trading with the EU will require an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number. Firms without an EORI number may face ‘increased costs and delays’, the government recently warned. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, businesses will need a 12 digit EORI number that starts with GB in order to move goods in or out of the country. Firms that already have an EORI number that starts in GB can continue to use it. Businesses do not require an EORI number if they only move goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Firms can apply for an EORI number here: bit.ly/2qTeFiW.   Businesses are also advised to decide whether a customs agent will be used to make import and/or export declarations, or whether declarations will be made by the business via software.