The government has backtracked on plans to abruptly end freedom of movement on 31 October in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in a move experts have said will come as a relief to employers.
Home secretary Priti Patel said the government was still committed to ending freedom of movement after Brexit.
But in a statement yesterday, she confirmed that in a no-deal scenario the government would implement a temporary leave to remain scheme, almost identical to the one proposed by her predecessor – a marked U-turn from the announcement last month that the UK could abruptly end free movement overnight, a move which had alarmed employers who feared their supply of EU talent could be disrupted overnight.
Under the revived scheme, dubbed European Temporary Leave to Remain (Euro TLR), EU citizens arriving after a no-deal Brexit will be able to apply for a three-year temporary immigration status. This will allow them to live and work in the UK beyond the planned launch of any future immigration system – which the government hopes to have in place by 2021.
- UK employers express concern over shortage of skilled candidates
- Rate of EU migration falls to lowest levels since 2013
- More than one million EU citizens granted settled or pre-settled status
After the post-Brexit immigration system is launched, anyone entering the UK will have to qualify under the new system, details of which remain speculative.
The latest announcement comes against a backdrop of deepening uncertainty in parliament over whether the government will be able to pursue a no-deal Brexit or whether it will be forced to request an extension of Article 50, with the likelihood of a subsequent general election to attempt to resolve the impasse over Brexit.
In her statement, Patel said: “The government recognises the need to provide EU citizens, employers and others with certainty about the arrangements that will be in place after Brexit.
“After careful consideration, myself, the prime minister and cabinet have therefore agreed that EU citizens moving here after a no-deal Brexit will be able to access a temporary immigration status, until the new skills-based immigration system goes live at the start of 2021.”
Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, said the change was “reassuring news” for employers who had been planning for a potentially opaque adjustment period before the introduction of any new migration restrictions.
“It’s not just good news for employers, it’s also good news for EU citizens because it ultimately means 31 October is not the effective deadline to come and live and work in the UK before more stringent restrictions are introduced.”
But Davies added that under the scheme, once the three years expired, any EU citizen would then need to meet the requirements of whatever new system is in place.
“If you are a low-skilled employer, and you are looking to recruit EU nationals, then it’s still very much in your interests to try and accelerate any recruitment process so that any EU citizens arrive in the next couple of months, so that they are able to live and work in the UK indefinitely with pre-settled status,” he said.
Davies said there was less pressure for employers of higher skilled workers as these employees were likely to meet the skills and salary requirements of any new immigration system. “Nonetheless, it still makes life a whole lot easier if you recruit in the next couple of months in order to avoid the administrative burden or cost of recruiting someone through any potential points-based system,” he said.
Karendeep Kaur, senior immigration consultant at Migrate UK, said the U-turn was a way of giving employers and EU nationals “some clarity moving forward”.
“In comparison to [Theresa] May’s proposal, the only main difference is that the three years under Euro TLR count towards settlement at the five-year stage,” said Kaur.
She added that EU nationals were still encouraged to apply for settled or pre-settled status in the UK before 31 October. “Employers will need to plan and ensure that any EU workers entering the UK prior to 31 October apply for their pre-settlement status to avoid the Euro TLR status which is only valid for three years and thereafter UK immigration rules will apply,” she said.
Fraser Vandal, solicitor at UK law firm TLT, said employers and EU nationals would be “breathing a collective sigh of relief” at this latest announcement.
Vandal said an abrupt end to freedom of movement had the potential to cause “significant disruption for businesses, who would in practice have had no concrete means of establishing whether an EU national was in the UK legally or not.”
"While there will inevitably be arguments within Westminster about whether or not EU nationals should continue to be given some form of preferential access to the UK following a no-deal Brexit – albeit on a temporary basis – the revised proposals certainly appear to have a number of practical advantages when compared to those previously mooted,” said Vandal.