Immigration - are we Brexit ready?

  • Insight

07 January 2019

An immigration ‘cliff edge’ would be a real problem for the many sectors which currently rely on large numbers of EU migrant workers. Transitional arrangements are essential to ensure ‘business as usual’ is possible for many of our clients post-Brexit.

According to the latest statistics from Migration Watch UK, more British citizens leave the country than arrive, and EU net migration is currently 87,000 compared to 235,000 from outside the EU. Around three million EU nationals live in the UK and they make up around 6.6 per cent of the workforce.

Our immigration and employment practice currently spends much of its time focused on Brexit related issues.  We help to demystify some of the law and processes surrounding the employment of EU and other European Economic Area (EEA) nationals. We’ve run training sessions for clients, mainly to help their HR teams with the issues, but also for their employees from EEA member states. 

The Education Sector

With 28% of UK’s academic workforce being non-UK residents and 16% of those being from EU countries, Scotland’s and the UK’s universities are built on recruiting and retaining talented academic staff from a broad range of countries. Fostering international links with other universities is also key and at the moment it is unclear how the government is going to ensure these links are maintained once the UK leaves the EU.

With this in mind, the education sector in Scotland has been particularly active in its preparation for Brexit.

Our advice to the Education Sector in Scotland has covered the various processes to be gone through to apply for a registration certificate (where an EEA national has been resident in the UK for less than 5 years); for permanent residency (where they have been resident for 5 years or more) and for British nationality (where they have held permanent residency for at least 1 year). 

A new settlement scheme

The UK Government has since introduced a new settlement scheme for use by EU nationals. The scheme uses the term ‘EU’ rather than ‘EEA’, but it is presumed that it would apply equally to nationals from Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. This new scheme is being phased in from 1 November 2018 and is currently envisaged as applying until the end of the transitional period on 31 December 2020; it is intended to be a more streamlined process than at present and with much lower fees. 

An EU national who has been continuously resident in the UK for at least 5 years may apply for ‘settled status’; with less than 5 years continuous residency they may apply for ‘pre-settled status’ with a view to ‘upgrading’ that in time.  There will be a grace period for applications at the end of the transitional period, but after that current proposals suggest that EU nationals would have no preferential treatment but would be subject to the ordinary UK immigration rules. 

However, the EU itself has highlighted several concerns with the scheme, for example, it focuses on EU nationals and doesn’t address the EEA (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) or Switzerland.

We also don’t yet know to what extent the scheme will be acceptable to the EU. Depending on how negotiations between the UK and EU progress, it is possible that it might yet be amended further ahead of 29 March 2019 or could even be withdrawn. 

Find out more about the EU settlement scheme in our recent update and sign up to receive our Brexit updates here

We’ll be running more sessions for our clients in the New Year once more details on the terms of Brexit emerge.  In the meantime if you have any questions about employment, immigration and Brexit please contact me or one of our Brexit Team.