Employers warned of changes ahead to UK immigration rules


The UK Government has announced plans to overhaul the immigration system, affecting how employers recruit, onboard and employ non-UK resident workers, as immigration solicitor Anne Morris explains.

The UK Immigration system is set for reform as the country prepares for Brexit. The Government has announced proposals which would, among other changes, see the the removal of ‘preferential treatment’ of EEA nationals in respect of immigration rights. By ending freedom of movement, EEA nationals would have to apply for a visa to work in the UK and would be subject to the same skills-focused, points-based criteria as non-EEA nationals

What does this mean for UK employers of EU workers? 

Under the current immigration rules, UK employers can hire EU citizens without having to seek permission from the Home Office.

The proposals however will see the existing points-based scheme extended to EU citizens. For employers, this means hiring any non-UK resident worker - whether EEA or non-EEA national - will require your business to hold a valid sponsorship licence.

For businesses who do not currently have a sponsor licence, you will need to make a formal application to the Home Office. If you satisfy the requirements and the licence is granted, you will become subject to additional (onerous) administrative duties, and you will be required to pay a number of associated fees such as the Immigration Skills Charge and the sponsor licence application fee. These demands are not insignificant and may be prohibitive for many smaller and independent employers.

Those businesses that already have a sponsor licence are also unlikely to escape unscathed from the reforms - where EEA nationals are to be employed as PBS workers, this will undoubtedly increase existing recruitment and employment costs and administration. 

A better skilled visa?

A key part of the reform is to be a shift in focus to better support skilled migration. The current route for skilled workers under Tier 2 of the points-based system has drawn criticism from all parts of the economy since its introduction. In what could be good news for UK employers of skilled workers, the proposals do pick up on some of the issues with the Tier 2 visa - which had also recently been highlighted by government advisers. These include abolishing the cap on the number of skilled worker visas that can be issued, and broadening the type of roles that are eligible under the Tier 2 route.

Migrant workers for lower skilled roles? 

The new system is expected to make it almost impossible for EU citizens to come to the UK to work in lower skilled roles - unless they fall under certain sector-related exceptions. The detail of any provisions for sectors recognised as relying on lower and medium skilled migrant employees are yet to be confirmed, but industries such as agriculture and health and social care have been highlighted as being in line for some form of exemption. Concerted pressure will need to be placed on Government to ensure exemptions extend sufficiently across all areas of the economy.

Employers preparing for change

The final detail and timeline for implementation are yet to be confirmed. 

While the Government is piloting the Settlement Scheme for EU citizens in the Britain, the rules remain unchanged in respect of EU citizens’ rights and ability to work and remain in the UK. 

We are seeing UK employers of EU workers starting to consider how a new system would impact their organisation in terms of processes, cost and resources. 

Anne Morris is a UK immigration lawyer and managing director at business immigration law firm DavidsonMorris.

DavidsonMorris Immigration Solicitors

DavidsonMorris specialises in business immigration. We assist companies with PBS Licences, compliance, visa applications and general advice regarding all aspects of UK immigration law.

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