20 January 2020

Brexit and EU workers

The Conservative Party is on track to fulfil its December 2019 election pledge to “get Brexit done” by 31 January 2020. The deal negotiated by Boris Johnson for the UK to leave the European Union (“EU”) passed its third reading in the House of Commons on 9 January 2020 and is now being considered by the House of Lords. The current bill sets a ‘Brexit date’ of 31 January 2020 and precludes further delay.

With a Brexit date of 31 January 2020 looking likely, employers should consider the implications of Brexit on their EU workforce in the UK. Employers in the hotel sector in particular (who often have high numbers of EU workers in their workforce), should consider the implications of Brexit on their current staffing models and future requirements.

As we currently understand it, if the UK leaves the EU with a deal (which seems likely), EU nationals currently living in the UK and those who arrive before 31 December 2020 (being the end of the transition period) can remain in the UK indefinitely (subject to conditions), provided they successfully apply for “settled status” under the new EU Settlement Scheme. Applications are easy to make, can typically be made on a smart-phone and success rate is generally high. Securing “settled status” (or “pre-settled status” for individuals who have not been living in the UK for five years at the time of applying, but who can be up-graded to “settled status” once they have been resident in the UK for five years) essentially maintains the status quo. Individuals will have until 30 June 2021 to make an application.

If, however, the UK leaves the EU without a deal, only EU nationals who are resident in the UK before the Brexit date (i.e. 31 January 2020) will be eligible to apply for “settled status”, and they will need to make their applications by the end of 2020.

The application system for settled status has been open since April 2019 and further information can be accessed on the government's website.

From January 2021, there will be a new skills-based immigration system (the details of which are unknown) and EU nationals looking to come to the UK from this date will be subject to the new system. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, there will be a temporary immigration system for EU nationals (known as “European temporary leave to remain”) between the Brexit date and the implementation of the new skills-based immigration system, which gives successful applicants a three year stay in the UK. Again, the details for this temporary system have not been published.

This is, understandably, an unsettling time for EU nationals and employers, including hotels, can take steps to support and reassure their EU workers. For example, running seminar sessions for staff, encouraging them to apply for “settled status” as soon as possible and generally keeping them updated on developments. Employers should also start to think about future recruitment requirements and the consequences of the new points based system (once known) on those requirements.

Should you have any queries, feel free to contact Joe Beeston (senior associate) in our Employment team who advises clients in this area and conducts workshops for our clients’ EU workforces.

Joe Beeston is a Senior Associate in our Employment team and Hotels group.

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