With Brexit now less than a year away, the UK government has been updating its guidance on the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK. This follows on from the agreement reached last month on the “implementation” period, which is to run between Brexit day on 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020.

The guidance gives employers a little more certainty on when EU citizens will be able to legally work in the UK. Free movement of people within the EU will continue up to and during the implementation period and there is more guidance about the new rules which will apply.

What we know is that if an EU citizen is intending to remain in the UK after 31 December 2020 they will need to apply for a new “status” document. The type of this new document will depend on which category they fall into.

  1. “Settled Status”: Those who will have been living in the UK for 5 years by 31 December 2020 can apply for “settled status” entitling them to continue to live and work in UK. EU citizens who have already acquired their permanent residence document to live in the UK will still need to exchange this for a settled status document.
  2. “Temporary Residence Permit”: Those who have arrived (or will arrive) in the UK before 29 March 2019 but won’t have been living in the UK for 5 years by 31 December 2020 can apply for a “temporary residence permit”. This will entitle them to remain in the UK until they reach 5 years, at which point they will be able to apply for settled status.
  3. “Registration”: Those who will arrive in the implementation period (between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020) will have to register if they are to stay for longer than 3 months. If they wish to stay beyond 31 December 2020 they will have to apply to remain beyond that date.
  4. “Future Immigration System”: Those who arrive after 31 December 2020 will be subject to a new immigration regime, the details of which are still to be worked out.  The Migration Advisory Committee is due to report on this later in the year.

The Government aims to have a “streamlined, quick and user-friendly” application process up and running later this year. EU citizens will then have until 30 June 2021 to make the necessary application for temporary or settled status.

This means that, over the coming years, employers will need to update their right to work procedures and checklists to reflect the new system and the new documents.

Is there anything else employers should be doing in the meantime? The Government’s guidance suggests that nothing is required to be done now. However there are a number of steps that prudent employers can take to get prepared:

  • Audit your workforce. Future resource planning will require knowledge of how many of your employees (or potential employees) will be affected by the changes.
  • Keep your workforce informed, updated and engaged. If there are employees who might qualify to apply for British citizenship now, this is worth exploring with them and may guard against a more restrictive immigration system in the future.
  • Ensure that you have the systems in place to check that affected staff have the necessary status document in place by June 2021 to avoid your business inadvertently incurring civil or criminal penalties by employing individuals without the proper right to work in UK.

Looking further into the future, we should get a better idea of what the post 31 December 2020 immigration system might look like when the Migration Advisory Committee publish their report later in the year. Employers who depend on EU workers should continue to keep this issue very much on their radar.

Our business immigration team would be delighted to assist if you’d like to discuss this in more detail.