If your organisation currently employs European Union nationals, here are five steps you need to take now – before the UK leaves the EU

Although the date that the UK will exit the EU – 29 March 2019 – has been confirmed for some time, many HR teams are still confused about how best to prepare for Brexit. In fact, nearly half (49%) of respondents to a recent CIPHR webinar poll said they were confused about Brexit’s impact, and what actions they needed to take.

While the full impact of Brexit on employment law and HR matters is still to be revealed, there are five concrete steps that HR teams can take to prepare for life in the UK after the EU.

Audit workers’ right to work

The first step that every employer should take is to audit their workforce, recommended Melinda Lord, an HR consultant at AdviserPlus. You must make sure you have current proof of right to work – such as a photocopy of a valid passport, and a visa – and that you have signed and dated the copy to confirm it is a true reflection of the original. These documents should be reviewed annually, added Lord, to make sure they are still valid, and you should request new documentation if any are found to have expired.

It’s important to note that EU ID cards will no longer be valid as proof of right to work after the UK exit the EU. The Home Office has a handy checklist to help you determine which documents are valid as proof of right to work.

Watch: building a case for electronic right to work checks

Support settlement applications

An estimated 2.27 million EU nationals are working in the UK. EU nationals who arrived in the UK before midnight on 31 December 2020 will be able to apply for settled or non-settled status:

  • Pre-settled status: resident in the UK for fewer than five years
  • Settled status: have been resident in the UK for at least five years, with absences of no more than 180 days in any 12-month period

All applicants will need:

  • Proof of identity and residence in the UK
  • A national passport with a biometric chip
  • A National Insurance (NI) number

Employers will be able to check the status of individuals’ applications, and the final decision, using a code provided to applicants by the government.

The settlement application programme is currently in a test phase, with this full scheme opening on 30 March 2019.

If the UK leaves the UK with the withdrawal agreement in place, there will be a transition period of free movement for EU workers up to 31 December 2020, enabling them to apply for the pre-settled or settled scheme before 30 June 2021.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, freedom of movement automatically stops on 30 March 2019. In this scenario, any EU nationals can only apply for settled or pre-settled status if they were resident in the UK before 29 March 2019, and they have until 31 December 2020 to apply.

Lord advised employers to encourage staff to obtain their pre-settled or settled status now: “this will reduce the risk of being barred under a no-deal scenario.”

Understand the European Leave to Remain (ELTR) scheme

If the UK exits the EU without a deal, EU citizens will be subject to interim immigration rules. EU nationals who arrive in the UK will be able to remain for up to three months without a visa. During this time, they must apply for ELTR, which is valid for three years, cannot be extended, and does not lead to settled status or indefinite leave to remain.

UK employers will be able to accept EU passports and national ID cards as proof of right to work until 31 December 2020. The new immigration system will begin in 2021.

Understand how visas will change

If you’re looking to employ EU nationals after 2020 – or, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, from 30 March 2019 – you will need to apply for a sponsorship licence, which currently costs £536.

The main immigration routes for working in the UK are the general worker (tier 2) visa, which lasts for five years or more, and the temporary worker (tier 5) visa, which is valid for 12 months. Post-Brexit, applicants for tier 2 visas must have a graduate-level degree and a starting salary of more than £30,000.

Revision: On 8 March 2019, the government introduced an exemption to tier 2, “so that the NHS and schools can continue to attract and hire experienced teachers, nurses and paramedics from overseas”, reports People Management. From 30 March 2019, applicants will only need to meet the starting salary of a lower rate of £20,800.

Communicate with staff and offer support

Lord advised: “From a mental health perspective, look after your workers. It’s an incredibly stressful time. For EU nationals, make sure they have the right level of guidance and support when applying for the immigration scheme or visas. If you have offices in the EU, you will need to find out how UK workers will be treated in that country post-Brexit too.”

Review policies and undertake workforce planning

“If we come out with a no-deal Brexit then you will have gaps in the workforce that you will need to fill,” said Lord. “It is important to be planning and to be looking at your succession plans.”

This transition period is also a good time to review your equality and diversity policies to ensure compliance and scope out the risks, said Lord. Be sure to update contracts with agency supplier where relevant, too.

Ultimately, said Lord, HR teams need to “brief managers and make sure they understand what the obligations are. Keep on top of the Brexit news so that you are able to advise with a level of confidence.” stressed Lord.

Want more advice about preparing for Brexit? Watch our webinar now