Employers are anxiously waiting for the government to flesh out details of the prime minister’s promises on rights for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit.
An EU summit in Brussels yesterday, Theresa May revealed plans to offer more certainty to EU migrants, including introducing a settled status which would maintain rights for those who had been in the country for at least five years.
"I want to reassure all those EU citizens who are in the UK, who have made their lives and homes in the UK, that no one will have to leave,” May said. “We won't be seeing families split apart. This is a fair and serious offer.”
However, although many trade groups welcomed the announcement, they also noted the devil would be in the detail and the reassurance was long overdue. “Although this news is a step in the right direction, we echo the concern of other industries if the cut-off date for entitlement to remain was set before the actual date of Brexit. This would disadvantage colleagues who have come to the UK in the last 12 months,” said Danny Mortimer, co-convenor at the health and social care interest group the Cavendish Coalition.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, added: “We believe that the right to live and work in the UK should be guaranteed for all EU migrants who are already in the UK at the point that the UK leaves the EU.”
A CIPD survey published in February found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of employers had noticed evidence that their EU27 staff members were planning to leave the organisation, or the UK entirely, in 2017.
Meanwhile, research by the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, released earlier this week, discovered that national insurance number applications for migrants from the EU8 – Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia – had dropped from 40,000 to 26,000 in the space of a year.
Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “This offer could have been made loudly and clearly nearly a year ago in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, which would have spared individuals, communities and employers significant angst and worry. Signals matter, and the UK government's lack of clarity until now has meant that many UK firms have lost valued members of staff, with others saying that key employees are thinking about leaving."
But Eros Rrodhe, senior consultant at immigration law firm Migrate UK, told People Management that May’s announcement “will hopefully give EU citizens in the UK some assurance that their right to live in the UK is not in jeopardy and it at least should slow the Brexit brain drain that we’d been seeing”.
Rrodhe added that employers “should be keeping up to date with any news” to make sure they are well-informed of developments that may affect their staff.
The government is expected to reveal more details of the proposed plans for the roughly three million EU citizens currently living in the UK on Monday.
The prime minister’s Brussels trip has taken place almost exactly a year after the UK voted to leave the EU.
Karen Briggs, head of Brexit at consultants KPMG, noted that although last year’s referendum result took many businesses “by surprise”, today many “are busy putting in place measures to insulate them from the most significant Brexit risks”.
However, Briggs warned: “This is not a universal pattern and there is definitely a band of firms that are either in denial or yet to fully engage at board level. These organisations tend to argue that there is too much uncertainty and complexity or, post-general election, they have unrealistic views on the Brexit outcome.”