Freedom of movement and the importance of being Brexit-ready

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SMEs thrive on attracting and retaining the brightest and best talent, but with forthcoming changes heralding the restriction of movement for EU citizens, they could find themselves unable to employ who they want, when they want to.

Lawyers are advising companies to get ready for the new immigration rules, knowing that failure to do so could have a dramatic effect on future growth and recruitment plans.

Following recent government announcements, it is clear that Brexit is still very much on the cards for the end of the year and companies need to prepare for the new immigration laws coming into force on January 1.

Amanda Hoad OBT Legal
Aldijana Hoad: We understand the future is uncertain

These laws mean that, to employ EU nationals currently not living in the UK after that, all business, no matter what size, will need a Sponsor Licence. This licence grants a company permission from the Home Office to employ overseas staff – previously something only needed for non-EU workers.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, there is currently an estimated 2.31 million EU nationals working in the UK and these changes could affect many sectors reliant on attracting new talent and staff from overseas. Aldijana Hoad, director at immigration law firm OTB Legal acknowledges that with the country still in the grip of the Covid-19 crisis, Brexit is something far from our minds.

“We understand that for some companies, the future is uncertain, and many are focusing to how to survive and operate in the future, so to have something else to think about right now is difficult,” she said.

“There were suggestions that the new immigration rules would be delayed because of Lockdown but the latest government guidance states they are still on track.

With this in mind, we want to stress how important it is for companies to apply for a Sponsor Licence now if they want to take on new EU nationals from overseas next year.”

The rules are also being relaxed to allow bosses to employ overseas nationals with A-Level or equivalent standard skills from January.

Companies need to consider what the impact would be on their workforce and recruitment plans and subsequent delivery of goods and services

This compares to the degree level required previously when filling a vacancy and could see Sponsor Licence applications increase, as companies look to take on staff at different skill levels.

Aldijana said: “With less than six months to prepare and an average two-month turnaround on the application process, it’s important to get started. Companies need to consider what the impact would be on their workforce and recruitment plans and subsequent delivery of goods and services, if there was a delay in getting a Sponsor Licence granted.”

Over 15 per cent of Sponsor Licence Applications are refused due to issues such as companies not providing the required documents or not responding in a timely manner. If an application is refused, there is a cooling-off period of six months and a new application can’t be made until after that date.

For companies currently employing EU nationals living in the UK, those individuals have until June 30, 2021 to apply to the Home Office for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. If they don’t apply before then, they would lose their right to live and work here and would be illegally employed.

“It’s not just about attracting new staff but also protecting your existing workforce. It is vital for employers to complete right to work checks on anyone they take on as the consequence of employing someone illegally could be devastating,” she said.

“Penalties could be up to £20,000 per illegal worker, criminal sanctions, including up to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine and companies could also face the loss of reputation as the Home Office publishes the names of businesses fined for employing illegal workers.

“Our advice is to seek guidance to ensure everything is in order in good time, allowing you to protect the future of your business and your current workforce.”