Britain will seek a reciprocal arrangement around worker mobility with the EU to support businesses and employees following Brexit, the government yesterday revealed in its much-anticipated post-Brexit white paper, published following the Chequers summit.
The white paper, The Future Relationship Between The United Kingdom And The European Union, emphasises that freedom of movement will come to an end after the UK leaves the EU.
However, several caveats have been outlined to ensure flexibility for workers and businesses, with the government proposing that the UK and the EU make reciprocal mobility arrangements that will support businesses in providing services, and moving people between UK and EU countries for work.
Under the proposals, citizens will be allowed to travel between the UK and EU countries without a visa for tourism and “temporary” business activity. Similar mobility will be facilitated for students and young people who want to study at universities in different countries.
The paper additionally supports the introduction of defined mobility provisions, including arrangements to ensure that UK citizens living in the EU can benefit from their pensions and associated healthcare. The proposals will form the basis of the next stage of negotiations with the EU.
"From a mobility perspective, it is encouraging to see that the government has listened to employers, especially in terms of youth mobility, onward movement for UK citizens within the EU and visa-free business travel,” Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD, told People Management.
“Intra-company transfers will also be an essential vehicle for HR to transfer staff between the UK and EU for short-term assignments and training, and offer some reassurance among organisations that are considering relocating part or all of their operations.”
Neil Carberry, chief executive at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, also welcomed the paper, which he described as ‘pragmatic’. “There is a pragmatism to this white paper that is welcome, even at this late hour,” he said. “The government has taken on board many business concerns about the smooth operation of our economy as we leave the EU.”
However, experts have criticised the lack of detail around how the proposed mobility arrangements will be implemented.
“The scant detail on how this will be achieved will bring little comfort to businesses trying to plan for the post-Brexit era at a time of declining EU migration and a chronically oversubscribed Tier 2 system for non-EU workers,” Natasha Chell, partner at Laura Devine Solicitors, said.
“We await with bated breath the EU’s response to the government’s attempt to square a circle – simultaneously ending free movement but retaining the benefits of the single market."
Jackie Penlington, immigration and employment expert at law firm Stevens & Bolton, raised additional concerns over the lack of detail around provision of lower-skilled workers, warning of an impending “recruitment headache” if this is not addressed.
“This is clearly concerning for many UK employers who rely heavily on an EEA workforce,” she said.
“Once the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, many employers are likely to face a recruitment headache to fill lower skilled roles, particularly in some sectors such as agriculture and hospitality.”
Last month, the government announced it would be scrapping the Tier 2 skilled visa cap for doctors and nurses, following the visa limits being breached for six consecutive months. However, Davies warned a skills threshold would likely form part of the final Brexit plan, which could have a knock-on impact for the UK’s labour market.
“The paper offers a stark reminder that the government's post-Brexit immigration policy will include a skills threshold, which looks more threatening than it did two years ago given the tightening labour market,” he said.
"This will affect low-skilled sectors seeking to recruit EU workers from 2021 for low-skilled roles particularly hard; especially given the high proportion of EU workers employed in sectors such as hospitality."
Full details of a new immigration policy are due to be published in a separate white paper.