Brexit and employment: 6 things you can do today to prepare for Brexit

Keith MacKenzie | |

If you’re in the recruiting space, Brexit poses a unique conundrum. The lack of clarity around what’s coming up has led to, among other things, a voluntary exodus of EU talent. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: experts are anticipating a sudden involuntary exodus of EU talent once new immigration processes are implemented in Brexit’s wake, leading to a mounting skills gap in the UK-eligible candidate pool.

This is already happening; one can only rely on projections of what lies ahead for Brexit and employment, and these projections change daily as per parliamentary proceedings. As a recruiter or employer, you’re caught in the middle of all this because, somehow, business must carry on and you must meet those business needs with hiring strategies and plans for the year ahead.

But how? How? All this Brexit uncertainty means it’s hard to plan ahead – whether it’s your hiring plan, business outlook, ramping up (or down) sales projections, and so on. To address this, we talked to Louise Haycock, a Director at Fragomen. Fragomen is a leading firm dedicated exclusively to the delivery of immigration services to companies around the world. The firm has upwards of 3,800 staff in more than 50 offices and provides services to many of the world’s leading corporations. It works with clients to facilitate the transfer of skilled employees into more than 170 countries. Fragomen’s professionals are respected thought leaders in the immigration field providing evidence and expertise to governments across the world including the UK Parliament, the US Congress, the European Union and the United Nations. The firm supports all aspects of global immigration, including strategic planning, quality management, compliance, government relations, reporting, and case management and processing.

DISCLAIMER: The situation with Brexit continues to be unclear – the date was recently moved again, this time to Oct. 31, 2019. We know the impact on your recruitment efforts is immeasurable, and we hope we can help you navigate the uncertainty of this period. With some adjustments in dates and schedules, you’ll still find a solid ally in our Brexit content.

Let’s be clear: Brexit will impact recruitment. Free movement of EEA nationals into the UK (and vice versa) will go and employers need to be ready. Businesses need a change management strategy and they should be clear on who it impacts, when and how. Employers are trying to cope with planning for the changes that would be implemented by the Withdrawal Agreement (or Plan B, C, D, E or wherever else we end up) whilst simultaneously ensuring they aren’t caught short in the event of a no deal.

What would happen under the Withdrawal Agreement?

There would be a transition period that would run until 31 December 2020. In essence, free movement would continue until the end of the transition period, during which time EEA nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EEA register their status to allow them to stay. Individuals arriving after the transition period would apply for immigration permission under the rules in place in each of the EEA, Switzerland or the UK as applicable.

What would happen in a no deal?

In the case of a no deal, there is no transition period. Employers should prepare for free movement ending on 29 March 2019 (or when Article 50 expires) and EEA nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EEA have to take action (most likely by registering their status). We explain further in #1 below.

Of course, Brexit isn’t just a migration problem. There are regulatory concerns and logistics issues and that’s not even scratching the surface. Businesses may consider bringing in a Brexit Project Manager who can oversee the whole process from start to finish, particularly in terms of compliance, strategy and mitigation of Brexit’s impact on your organisation. Recruiters and HR can play a huge part in this, so ensure that you and your colleagues are fully informed and updated on all Brexit developments – even highlighting the unknowns is useful in terms of strategic planning.

So, context is useful. After speaking at the Workable-sponsored event Brexit: Recruiting Through Uncertainty in London on 23 January 2019 (video below), Louise shared her recommendations on six things you can do today to prepare for Brexit and employment.

1. Plan for no deal (just in case)

If there is no deal between the UK and the EU, as stated above, free movement ends when Article 50 expires (currently scheduled for 29 March 2019). UK nationals arriving in the EEA to start work after that date would need to apply for immigration permission under the rules in place in the member state to which they relocate (and may need permission in more than one country in the case of UK nationals living in one member state but working in others). EEA nationals who arrive in the UK after 29 March 2019 will no longer have the right of free movement. At a minimum they will have to register to stay in the UK and worst case scenario, they must apply under Tier 2. You should build a contingency plan for this.

New Hires/New Assignees

Our immediate concern is new hires or those starting assignments after 29 March 2019. If you are aware of British nationals relocating to the EEA or EEA nationals to the UK, consider bringing start dates forward to on or before 29 March 2019 to ensure that they benefit from the free movement provisions. If not, manage expectations of both the individual and their line manager. The UK national relocating to work in the EEA will likely have to obtain immigration permission to start work, adding time and costs to the process. EEA Nationals relocating to the UK will be able to enter and start work, but will need to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain if they wish to stay longer than three months (at as yet unknown cost). This will give the individual a 36-month permission to work in the UK. After this time, they would need to switch into an immigration status under the new immigration regime or leave the UK.

UK Nationals in the EEA

This bears repeating: In a no deal, free movement will end when Article 50 expires. UK Nationals residing in the EEA on or before 29 March 2019 will need to take action. The EU27 have begun to publish guidance on requirements so employers should look out for this, in particular any deadlines by which UK nationals have to make their applications which will vary from country to country in a no deal scenario.

EEA Nationals in the UK

In a deal or no deal, EEA Nationals who relocated to the UK whilst free movement provisions were in place will be required to register under the EU Settlement Scheme. Applications are expected to be accepted until at least 30 December 2020. In a no deal, only those residing in the UK on or before 29 March 2019 are eligible. The third stage of the pilot is now open (a fee of £65 is payable for applications made up to and including 29 March 2019 but will be reimbursed). Employers can encourage their EEA based populations to apply as soon as they are able.

2. Know your population

Take a look at your current workforce and check the Brexit effect on workers and who will/can be impacted, i.e. who are your UK nationals in the EEA, and who are your EEA nationals in the UK? Once you have this information, you are best placed to communicate with them and to analyse the impact that the right of free movement could have on your business.

Next, divide them into cohorts based on their needs. This could be Irish nationals – who are not impacted as their right to work in the UK is protected under legislation pre-dating the UK’s membership of the EU. They could be UK nationals in Europe (look out for any registration schemes), EEA Nationals in the UK (get applying under the EU Settlement Scheme).

You may also want to consider special categories, including VIPs, commuters, frontier workers and assignees.

3. Communicate and support

Next, communicate to each cohort based on needs. These communications should reassure, inform, educate, and encourage. It isn’t just the cohorts outlined above that you will need to contact. Others in your business who are not directly impacted may need to be educated or kept aware, including those in legal, finance, C-suite, HR directors and line managers.

There are a number of media channels you can communicate through, based on your target audience: emails, webinars, town halls (in person and/or virtual), printable/shareable guides, FAQs, posters, videos, intranet pages, and so on. These communications can include information on where your colleagues can get help and who they can talk to.

Being open in your communications and showing compassion and support for your employees and colleagues, whether present or future, will reaffirm their faith in you as an employer.

4. Plan for the future

Deal or no deal, the UK will implement a new immigration regime from late 2020 onwards which will treat EU nationals in the same way as other non-EU nationals.

In December 2018, a white paper was released by the British government on this new immigration regime. Highlights of this white paper for workers include details on:

  • Abolition of the cap (currently 20,700 restricted Certificates of Sponsorship – CoS)
  • Abolition of Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT)
  • Reduction of Skill Level from degree level to A-Level. Roles that could be sponsored subject to salary level would now include Air Traffic Controllers, IT User Support, Electrical and Electronic Technicians, HR Officers (but not HR Administrators)
  • £30K salary threshold (to be consulted on)
  • A transitional route which would be reviewed in 2025 that would be for all skill levels including low skilled. This route would provide a 12-month visa followed by a 12-month cooling off period for self-sponsored, low-risk nationalities

Also, keep an eye on Fragomen’s informative and regularly updated Brexit section to stay up to date on developments.

5. Update your work policies

Audit your workplace policies, and consider which ones may need updating. You’re especially looking for details that may or will be impacted by Brexit, including right to work, onboarding, mobility, visas, expenses, and so on. You might want to consider whether your policies are suitable for a post-Brexit age. Are they too generous given the expense of obtaining a visa or not generous enough if you are still looking to attract migrant talent who don’t have the ease and flexibility that they once had? Budgets need to be prepared and in place to start an immigration process, so check that your policies and financials match.

You will also want to audit internal processes and communications to ensure that everyone adheres to these new policies and is fully on board as to how to continue to smoothly operate as a business.

6. Educate your business

Talk with colleagues whose decision-making processes will be impacted. This can, as above, include legal, finance, C-suite, HR managers and line managers. Consider the needs and obligations of each in terms of their roles in the organisation.

For instance, consider that a new immigration system will have the following effects on your business operations:

  • Longer processes: in procuring a visa and other necessities for EU nationals in UK and UK nationals in Europe. You’ll need to manage expectations on the time it will take to hire for all relevant parties (currently it can take around three months to secure a Tier 2 visa for a new hire to the UK based overseas before they take up the role).
  • Higher expenses: visas are expensive (circa £9,000 for a Tier 2 visa valid for 5 years). You need to free up budget for this.
  • Potentially smaller candidate pools: as the UK becomes less attractive to previously visa-free candidates, the number of candidates applying for roles may drop sharply. You’ll need to establish smarter recruitment strategies.
  • Gaps in skill sets: many skilled jobs will be difficult to fill due to departing talent. Devise and implement training programmes where roles have typically been filled by EEA nationals.

Conclusion

The lack of certainty around Brexit and employment – particularly for organisations such as yours – means there is no perfect solution. However, if you do your homework, consider the segments in your workforce and the specific impacts on each, open up channels of communication and support, and keep your policies and colleagues regularly updated, you should have a smart short-term strategy designed to pivot quickly at the earliest sign of measurable change.

For more information on how Fragomen can help you with your business, visit their website or contact Louise Haycock at LHaycock@fragomen.com.

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Keith MacKenzie

Keith is Workable's content strategy manager, and brings more than a decade's worth of background as an editor and writer in the mainstream media and content marketing industries. He's very interested in the perpetually evolving recruitment landscape and how it is shaped by internal and external influences, as well as worldwide trends.

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