Brexit Fatigue? Why HR Managers can’t afford to become complacent

Guest blog by Jonathan Beech, Managing Director of Migrate UK immigration law firm

Bored of Brexit already?

If you’ve got Brexit-fatigue, then you can be forgiven. Almost every day we read or hear something new about our exit from the EU – not surprising though – it’s one of the biggest events in history and will change our economy and country.

This month it’s been incredibly hard to escape Theresa May’s Brexit speech, and this week’s Supreme Court ruling that triggering Article 50 requires an Act of Parliament.  However, these events also highlight why employers relying on an international workforce shouldn’t get complacent.

HR needs to consider the impact an exit could have on the future of their workforce – and should be considering ways to secure their current skills ahead of changes to the immigration system.


Take action on your EU talent now

As expected, the Prime Minister still didn’t confirm in her speech on 17th January, whether EU nationals, already residing in the UK, will be allowed to stay.

This is despite her stating that ‘We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can.’ Employers need clarity on this matter urgently so they can continue to acquire the skills they need to grow.

However, clarity is unlikely to come soon as discussions are still ongoing with other EU leaders and – as Theresa May said in her speech –  whilst many EU leaders are in favour of an agreement, one or two others aren’t.

In the meantime, HRs should encourage EU workers, who are classified as a ‘qualified persons,'(i.e. they are working, studying etc), to apply for a registration certificate, to prove their right to live or to work in the UK ahead of any immigration changes imposed. Any ‘qualified persons’ who have been in the UK for at least five years could qualify for Permanent Residence and subsequently, British nationality.

Our recommendation is to get applications in early. The Home Affairs Committee is warning of possible delays in the immigration system with a rise in those wanting to secure their status ahead of any immigration changes.


Where will the changes hit hardest?

Last year the Government hinted that they may introduce a tougher work permit system and a tighter resident labour market test for companies to pass before recruiting EU employees, after Article 50 is triggered. These polices could threaten the future skills of our workforce, despite the Prime Minister stating in her Brexit speech a need for highly skilled immigration and that ‘We will continue to attract the brightest and best to work and study in Britain.

Industries like engineering, IT, construction, hospitality, which rely heavily on skills from outside the UK, will be greatly hit.

These two proposed immigration policies will undoubtedly increase a company’s administration costs and time. If introduced, work permits could heavily limit EU migrants coming into Britain unless they already have a skilled job offer.  It will also place heavy restrictions on foreign students studying and training in the UK, restricting the flow of new talent coming into the country.


Recruitment will become more selective, depending on technicality and seniority

Recruiting EU workers could start to become a very selective process as it currently is for non-EU workers. Whether they can be hired may depend on the technicality and seniority of the vacancy, the rate of pay and whether there are any settled UK workers available to fill the role.

It could even be that a work sponsorship system is introduced similar to the one for non-EU workers, which could increase administration, levies and surcharges, licence requirements and restrictions on employees. Businesses may need to apply for an extended or separate sponsor licence to the one they hold for non-EU workers, and as with other immigration laws to be enforced in April 2017 for non-EU workers, a new five-year visa could cost around £7,000, with employers having to re-apply for it every four years.


Curbing free movement is a threat to areas with existing talent shortages

Curbing free movement, which allows EU nationals the right to live and work in other member states, is also a threat to the future of our British workforces, especially those sectors like engineering and IT, where skills are already scarce.

It’s been previously suggested by European parliament member, Charles Goerens, that an option to gain “associate EU membership” could be introduced, which would guarantee the right to free movement and residency. This would certainly help overcome the threat that curbing free movement, will have on the UK workforce, but, according to reports, this proposal will not be debated until the UK formally leaves the EU.


Talent shortages could force UK Businesses to relocate

Making it tough for EU workers to retain or secure a job in the UK will simply see them leave to work elsewhere.  If the skills pool then dries up, of course many UK companies will struggle to compete nationally and globally – making it likely they will relocate their business overseas.

The Prime Minister acknowledged in her Brexit speech, the importance of attracting and retaining the best talent into Britain.  However, the Government has yet to demonstrate how they will achieve this, given that this needs to be balanced against their promise to control immigration.

Despite the Brexit issue rarely leaving our front page news since the vote took place, whilst we may be a little ‘Brexit-worn’ ahead of the event, talent managers can’t afford to wait for Brexit to hit. It’s time to pay full attention and bolt the stable door before the talented horse rides off.

Author: Editorial Team

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