The country may still be in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis but as many companies make plans for a safe return to the office, bosses are being reminded that the UK is on track to leave the EU at the end of the year and they need to think about putting plans in place for that date.
Employers and HR professionals are being advised that if they are not ready for the forthcoming changes which sees the restriction of movement for EU citizens, it could have a dramatic effect on their future growth and recruitment plans, leaving them unable to employ who they want, when they want to.
Aldijana Hoad, director at Immigration law firm OTB Legal, is advising companies how they can prepare for January 2021 when the new rules are introduced.
ATTRACTING TALENT AND STAFF FROM OVERSEAS
The new laws mean that to employ EU nationals currently not living in the UK after 1st January 2021, a business 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 of 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. This could include the likes of the tech industry through to manufacturing, social care, logistics and construction.
Aldijana acknowledges that this is probably the last thing many businesses are thinking about at the moment. “We understand that for some, the future is uncertain, so to have something else to think about right now is hard for many of us to consider. There have been suggestions that the new immigration rules would be delayed because of the lockdown. However, UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) centres are starting to re-open from 1st June and the latest government guidance states that they are still pushing forward with the new rules.
“With this in mind, we want to stress how important it is for companies to apply for a Sponsor Licence now if they will be wanting to take on new EU nationals from overseas next year.”
IMMIGRATION RULES RELAXED
The rules are also being relaxed to allow bosses to employ overseas nationals with A-Level or equivalent standard skills from 1 January 2021, compared to the degree level required previously when filling a vacancy. This means that Sponsor Licence applications are likely to increase as companies look to take on a wider variety of staff at different skill levels.
Aldijana continued: “The latest guidance states the process will take around eight weeks so it’s important to be prepared for this. Companies need to consider what the impact would be on their workforce and recruitment plans and subsequent delivery of goods and services to clients, if there was a delay in getting a Sponsor Licence granted.
“Given that COVID-19 has so far not affected the government plans to exit the EU, our advice to these companies is to start applying for a Licence now.”
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In order to be granted a Sponsor Licence, a company must demonstrate that it is a genuine business, that is offering genuine employment, and show that all internal procedures are capable of carrying out the sponsorship licence obligations. Over 15% of Sponsor Licence Applications are refused due to issues including companies not providing the required documents, providing incorrect documents or not responding in a timely manner. It’s important to note that if an application is refused, there is a cooling-off period of six months and a fresh application can’t be made until that time has passed, so it is vital to make sure everything is in order.
HR professionals also need to ensure their company is prepared and can evidence compliance with the immigration duties and that they have all the relevant documents needed to proceed. This can all be done remotely so even if teams are not back in the office, they can look at starting this process.
Aldijana concluded: “It is a complex procedure, so our advice would be to seek help and guidance to ensure you have everything in order and that your application is likely to succeed. Companies don’t want to find themselves in a situation early next year where they are unable to attract and employ the brightest and best talent to drive their business forward.”