With only 34 days left until the end of free movement of EU nationals to and from the UK, HR must prepare soon for this monumental change. 

On the 31st December, free movement of EU nationals to and from the UK will end. Coming into play from the 1st January 2021 will be the new points based immigration system which assigns points depending on skill sets.

Laura Kearsley, partner and solicitor specialising in employment law at Nelsons LLP, says this move is a “significant milestone in UK’s Brexit transition, following the country’s departure from the EU on the 31st January 2020”.

Ms. Kearsley further states that this system “will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally” and “any employer [who wants to] hire from outside the UK will need to apply for permission in advance”.

For employers, this means that from the start of the new year, companies must obtain sponsor licenses to recruit from abroad if they do not already have one.

Here are some vital tips that employers and HR must keep in mind when preparing for this change.

Obtain a sponsor licenses

The Government outlines that if employers want to hire someone from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, the employer may need to apply for a sponsor license.

However, Laura Kearsley offers a word of warning regarding this. She said:

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 license, employers have to have made an application to UK Visas and Immigration to evidence their eligibility and prove they meet the requirements.

Some of the criteria for eligible employees includes ensuring that workers do not have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or other crimes. Additionally, the Government will also check that the employee does not have a history of failing to carry out their sponsorship duties.

It further states that employers must ensure that there must be ‘appropriate systems’ in place to monitor sponsored employees including:

  • monitoring the employees’ immigration status
  • keeping copies of relevant documents for each employee, including passport and right to work information
  • tracking and recording employees’ attendance
  • keeping employee contact details up to date
  • reporting to UK Visas and Immigration if a problem does arise e.g. the employee stops coming to work

Act now

Laura Kearsley states that employers are being urged to take action regarding this immediately.

Ms. Kearsley warns that there may not be enough provisions if employers wait to take action:

There is a growing backlog of applications for sponsor licenses, 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?

If the application is successful, this scheme allows EU, EEA or Swiss citizens and their families to continue living in the UK after 30th June 2021.

Regarding this, Ms. Kearsley said:

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

Ms. Kearsley advises companies to review their recruitment needs now and beyond the pandemic in order to ensure they have applied for the sponsor license in good time.

She states:

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.

*Lauren Kearsley is a Partner and Solicitor at Nelsons Law. Nelsons Law provide support to businesses, individuals and families with their legal and investment needs.

Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.