Don’t let Brexit erode your EU workforce

What can HR professionals do to prevent their EU workers leaving thanks to Brexit?

As Brexit rumbles on, there is still no fully guaranteed path ahead from the government for businesses employing EU nationals and for migrants looking to settle or extend their stay.

Last week’s announcement setting out the rights of EU citizens in the UK (and vice versa) as part of the first stage of the Brexit deal is broadly welcomed, but as the terms between the EU and Britain are to be agreed by the UK on condition of an overall agreement on the UK’s withdrawal, ‘nothing is fully agreed until everything is agreed’ (as is clearly noted at the top of the official document itself).

There is also still continued uncertainty about the status of EU citizens within the UK after Brexit, because of the failure to agree a ‘cut-off date’ where freedom of movement regulations are restricted for EU migrants entering and establishing in the UK for the first time, and real concerns over the future application process for EU migrants who wish to settle or extend their stay.

In addition, it appears that recommendations on the new Brexit immigration system for EU migrants are not expected to be released until autumn 2018 with the government’s Migration Advisory Committee report.

Meanwhile, latest ONS net migration figures show a huge drop in the numbers coming to the UK.  Net migration has fallen from +336,000 to +230,000 since the EU referendum, a massive change, with more than three-quarters of the decrease attributed to EU citizens – down 82,000 over the year. The number of EU citizens entering the UK for work-seeking purposes has also dropped by 47,000, while the largest change in people leaving the UK was also from EU citizens, increasing 29 per cent to 123,000.

For employers, there is also a ‘double whammy’ of a 28,000 fall in non-EU migration, further adding to skills and labour shortages in sectors such as IT, finance, manufacturing and engineering. Not until the government confirms the full details of an overall Brexit agreement will fears subside for employers relying heavily on outside skills.

At this stage, without cast iron certainties from the government, EU citizens should be encouraged to first apply for a registration certificate of permanent residence to prove their right to live or work in the UK if they have not yet done so.

Any ‘qualified person’ who has been in the UK for at least five years should also apply for permanent residency and then British nationality 12 months afterwards (or directly after obtaining permanent residency if they are married to a British citizen).

In addition, employers and HR teams wanting to retain EU workers need to ensure their house is in order and keep HR files of all EU employees endorsed and have copies of passports. Migrate UK’s recent research found that at least 38 per cent of 1,000 organisations surveyed needed training on what official documents must be held for non-British/non-EEA workers, while half of businesses were also unaware of the paperwork they should keep for British workers. It is critical that businesses carry out their own internal audits to ensure all the correct paperwork is in place, and be clear on the legal requirements should the Home Office come calling.

Preparation is key. With details yet to be confirmed for EU immigration status applications, the Home Affairs committee is already warning of delays and backlogs in the immigration system, which is only likely to get worse the closer we get to Brexit.

Jonathan Beech is managing director of immigration law firm Migrate UK