In these trying times of pandemics, you could be forgiven for thinking that the normal course of Government and business had all but ground to a halt, with our collective focus being on statistics of infection, hospitalisation and sadly, mortality.
However, the business of Brexit and all that goes with it, did continue and at 11pm on 31 December 2020, in the most tumultuous year in living memory, the transition period following the UK’s exit from the European Union came to an end and with it, the free movement of EU citizens within the UK and UK citizens within the EU.
EU Settlement Scheme
Initially, following the Brexit referendum, those EU citizens already in the UK were very concerned about their position and that of their families. This subsided as the Government introduced the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to provide a way for them to remain in the UK and to continue to live, work and access all of the benefits that they had previously enjoyed pre-Brexit.
The process has been designed to be simple and quick to use and, as of the end of February 2021, 4.81 million EU citizens have applied for and obtained settled or pre-settled status. However, the hard deadline to apply for either of these is 30 June 2021 – so time is of the essence for those who have not yet applied.
Settled status allows any EU citizen who has been here for more than five years, to remain in the UK and in due course, should they choose, to apply for citizenship shortly thereafter.
Any EU citizen with less than five years’ residency in the UK prior to 31 December 2021 will be able to apply for pre–settled status, which will likewise give them the right to remain in the UK. Once they have accumulated five years’ residency, they can transfer that to settled status and thus get the additional protection available.
Despite the number of EU citizens who have already obtained settled or pre-settled status, a significant number of EU citizens have not, or are not, aware of the opportunity, or need to apply for this status.
The Government’s deadline leaves only three months in which to apply and if the deadline is not met, the right will be lost. Employers should be reminding employees of the need to apply for this if they wish to do so. That said, a note of caution: the reminder should be issued to all staff, not only those whom the employers knows or believes may be non-UK nationals, to avoid any allegation of discrimination.
Changes to immigration
While the focus has been on Covid-19 and even on the Brexit deal with the EU, the long trailed “points based” immigration system finally came into effect on 1 December. From that date, a new skills-focused immigration regime became effective.
The primary focus of the new scheme is to allow those with appropriate skills to work in the UK. Put simply, the higher the level of skills and education, as well as the higher level of income, the better your chances of getting a visa.
All employers seeking to employ overseas nationals require to have a licence from the United Kingdom Visa & Immigration Office (UKVI), to be able to issue Certificates of Sponsorship (COS) for a prospective employee. The new regime does not place a limit on the number of immigrants entitled to come to the UK under these arrangements but employers with existing licences may have to consider extending the number of Certificates available to them, especially as any future EU employees will need to have a work visa and will use one of those certificates.
Employers who only employ EU Nationals have not previously required a licence to issue Certificates of Sponsorship but as of 1 January 2021 these businesses must now obtain them. Now is the time to apply for such a licence if you don’t already have one.
You may also be interested in our other articles:
- UK Government Brexit Professional Advice Grants for SMEs
- UK Data Protection Law after Brexit
- Getting to grips with the Brexit transition agreement could have a silver lining
A version of this article was published in The Scotsman.