Employers seek to reassure EU staff by covering cost of settled status

But experts warn the financial burden may be beyond employers in ‘low wage industries’

Organisations are increasingly seeking to reassure their EU employees by offering financial assistance with settled status, experts have said, following the news that Heathrow Airport is covering the costs of staff members applying to remain in the UK post-Brexit. 

On Monday, the airport announced it would cover the £65 application fees for EU employees seeking settled status in the UK, in an effort to provide certainty and reassurance over their future employment prospects.

Approximately 350 members of staff are eligible for settled status applications, which could cost the organisation more than £22,000 should all of them apply. 

Commenting on the move, Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye said it was crucial the organisation maintained a workforce that reflected Heathrow’s position as a national business and continued to retain and attract top talent after exiting the EU. 

“It is critical for us to have diverse, happy and valued colleagues,” he said. “Many of our people are worried about Brexit and this move will provide reassurance and certainty.” 

Reports at the beginning of November found some NHS trusts were already covering the settled status of their EU employees in a proactive effort to counter the uncertainty around post-Brexit migration. 

Speaking to People Management, immigration analyst at Migrate UK Karendeep Kaur said research conducted by the immigration law firm earlier in the year suggested the airport was not the only organisation to take ‘significant’ financial steps in supporting their EU members of staff. 

“Almost six in 10 (59 per cent) of the employers we surveyed had paid up to £100,000 since the Brexit vote on extra benefits for their staff,” she said. 

“This included the permanent residence fee, and on top of that some were paying for  British nationality application fees, which is approximately £1,300 per person. If you take into account family members, this could amount to quite a significant amount of money.” 

The first beta testing of the settled status scheme run by the government revealed 1,046 of 1053 applicants were granted a decision on their status between 28 August and 17 October 2018.

Public services union Unison recently published guidance for public sector employers looking to financially support their staff in applying for settled status, with the union’s general secretary Dave Prentis stressing that EU workers play a “vital role in the delivery of public services, especially health and social care”. 

However, Ian Brinkley, acting chief economist at the CIPD, told People Management the sector may be limited by financial pressures. 

“Offering to pay the registration fee for settled status is one way for employers to signal they value their migrant staff and want them to stay. If employers go down this route, however, they must ensure all staff who are eligible are included,” he warned.  

“It will be most feasible for employers where the numbers involved are modest. There may be limits on what can be done in parts of the public sector and social care where staff budgets are already under strain, and the costs involved may prove to be too high for employers in low-wage industries who employ a lot of migrants.”

Brinkley added: “The government could look at reducing the cost of the registration fee to show that migrants already in the UK are welcome here.”

The government was last week criticised by experts for using EU citizens as ‘bargaining chips’ in the Brexit negotiation process, after a policy paper warned that only EU citizens who could prove their residency in the UK on March 29 2019 would be eligible to apply for settled status. 

“Many organisations are reporting that their EU staff say they feel unwelcome, and so are offering increased salaries, bonuses, or other different incentives to reassure them,” Kaur said. 

“It’s likely that for many employers, the priority is to get this done now, as we could see residency fees increasing after leaving the EU, or the rules changing, and action in the future could hang on whether or not employers can afford to help.”