On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU) and the political and economic landscape changed irrevocably.
Approximately 2.8 million European economic area (EEA) nationals live and work in the UK, according to a Home Office white paper published in January 2017, and the UK government has set out its plan for transitioning these nationals into UK domestic immigration law post-withdrawal in March 2019. Multiple white papers have been published detailing the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, with one published in June 2017, a further joint UK and EU report published on 8 December 2017, and a further white paper expected.
EEA nationals who legally enter the UK prior to 29 March 2019 will be permitted to remain, but will need to make an application to evidence their right to live and work in the UK. Those who have been residents in the UK for five years will be allowed to stay indefinitely by applying for settled status. EEA nationals who arrive before 29 March 2019, but have not been in the UK for five years, will be required to apply for temporary status until they have reached five years, after which they can apply for settled status.
EEA nationals who arrive after 29 March 2019 will not automatically be eligible to apply for settled status, and their future will depend on the immigration arrangements to be announced. Employers should identify EEA nationals working in the UK, UK nationals working elsewhere in the EU and check when employees first arrived in the UK or abroad.
Employee benefits should be reviewed and monitored to ensure there is fair treatment between employees of different nationalities and immigration status, in order to minimise the risk of discrimination claims. A clear policy should be established for localisation and harmonisation of benefits, both in respect of employees moving to or settling in the UK, and employees being moved out of the UK to locations abroad as part of the employer’s Brexit strategy.
Employers should ensure they are aware of statutory legal protections and consultation obligations in each jurisdiction in which they employ people, which may impact on their ability to make changes to benefit entitlements.
They should also review long-term recruitment and succession planning, proposed secondment and rotations and decide how to support applications, as well as review how much they are able to invest in the process. In addition, employers should plan employee communications, provide information to employees on the proposed changes, communicate key application deadlines and advise on what needs to be done and when.
Nick Hobson is immigration associate at law firm Morgan Lewis