Brexit implications on employment law

On 23 June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) in an EU Referendum, and thus the UK exited the EU on 31 January 2020. Although a withdrawal agreement was successfully negotiated and passed by both the UK and EU Parliaments, a transition period is now in place until December 2020, giving both bodies ample time to work out future trade agreements.

In March 2019, the UK introduced an EU Settlement Scheme to register EU nationals already residing in the UK prior to its departure from the EU. Likewise, in February 2020 before a localised coronavirus incident turned into the pandemic as we know it, further immigration measures were announced in the form of amendments to the already established points-based immigration system.

EU Settlement Scheme

EU nationals currently employed to work in the UK can continue to do so despite Brexit. The Government's EU Settlement Scheme was introduced to allow EU nationals already residing in the UK to apply for settled status post-Brexit by the deadline of 30 June 2021. To make use of this scheme, employees must have been in the country by 31 December 2020. This means that employers will be able to retain any EU nationals that are already part of their workforce (by 31 December 2020) if they apply for settled status by 30 June 2021.

Employers should prepare for what they can do if their EU workers don’t apply for settled status – this can be in the form of awaiting further government advice or coming up with alternative options, now, to deal with any potential gaps in their workforce after 31 December 2020.

Points-based immigration system

The Government has announced that from 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated the same under a ‘points-based system’. Under this new system, non-citizens who seek to work in the UK, following the end of EU free movement on 31 December 2020, will need to meet certain criteria before they can be allowed to work in the UK. Points up to a total of 70 are to be awarded to those seeking work in the UK, including having a job offer from an approved sponsor, seeking to undertake a job of an appropriate skill level, and having English-speaking abilities. These new rules are likely to have an impact upon employers who have come to rely on so-called low-skilled labour from the EU.

Takeaway

Whilst these developments may be subject to change as we await a new Immigration Bill, which is expected later in 2020, they give a strong indication of how immigration will function post-Brexit for all foreign nationals, including EU citizens.

The implications of the much dreaded ‘no-deal Brexit’ are likely to be wide reaching and it is currently unclear how other areas of employment law will be affected as a result. Therefore, it is important that employers keep up to date with all Brexit developments and keep in mind, for all future planning and decision making, that things may readily change.

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