The end of free movement: How employers need to prepare

Laura Kearsley

Business owners who want to continue employing EU nationals once the UK leaves the European Union need to take immediate action, an expert employment solicitor at law firm Nelsons has warned.

On Thursday, 31 December 2020, “free movement” of EU nationals to and from the UK will end. This means that, from 1 January 2021, any employer who wishes to recruit skilled workers from abroad will need a sponsor licence if they don’t already have one.

Laura Kearsley, partner and solicitor specialising in employment law at Nelsons, said: “The end of free movement represents a significant milestone in the UK’s Brexit transition, following the country’s departure from the EU on 31 January 2020.

“It means that the government will have full control of the UK borders for the first time in four decades, but what does it mean for the nation’s employers?

“The new process will be a points-based immigration system that will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally. Any employer wanting to hire from outside the UK will need to apply for permission in advance.”

Here, Laura explains what business owners need to do to ensure they can still employ EU nationals.

Obtain a sponsor licence

“A sponsor licence is granted by the Home Office to an employer and permits them to employ skilled nationals from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries under a tier two visa. However, it’s worth noting that sponsoring an individual does not guarantee they’ll be allowed to work and live in the UK.

“In order to obtain a sponsor licence, employers have to have made an application to UK Visas and Immigration to evidence their eligibility and prove they meet the requirements.”

Act now

“Employers are being urged to take action immediately as we understand there is a growing backlog of applications for sponsor licences, with 34,000 firms already approved. There are concerns there will not be enough resources at the Home Office to process all the applications in time.”

What about the EU Settlement Scheme?

“The EU Settlement Scheme is still available for EU nationals who are already in the UK and are eligible to apply for settled or pre-settled status. More than four million applications have already been received, with the deadline being Wednesday, 30 June 2021.

“Employers will not be required to undertake retrospective right to work checks on EEA staff to ensure they’ve applied to the settlement scheme, but they will need to check this for new recruits. Employers will be able to accept an EEA identity card or passport as evidence until the June deadline.”

Think ahead

“Employers should be reviewing their recruitment needs now, and beyond the pandemic, to determine whether they will need a sponsor licence and to make that application in good time.

“Responsible employers will be continuing to flag up the settlement scheme to eligible staff. They should also be reviewing their recruitment policies and right to work check procedures to make sure they are compliant.”

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