Brexit employment update: the more things change…
With as much controversy as fanfare, the UK Prime Minister and the EU's negotiator have agreed terms of a Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration about the future relationship between the EU and UK. However, with the future of that Agreement uncertain and Brexit due to happen in less than 4 months, that leaves the Government and employers with very little time to implement any new systems relating to EU nationals and their family members who come to the UK during the transition period. Unfortunately, there is very little clarity at present as to what (if any) new system will be in place.
After some initial uncertainty, we now know that EU migrants already in the UK and those who arrive before 31 December 2020 will be able to apply for pre-settled or settled status (depending on their length of time in the UK). This is welcome news, especially as the process is relatively straightforward (compared with other immigration applications).
A pilot for the process has been set up in the North West, and the pool of test applicants is being widened gradually, but progress is slow, and there are concerns that the system will not be ready for the March deadline. So where does this leave employers and their need to conduct 'right to work' checks?
Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister at the Home Office caused consternation by saying in a recent Home Affairs committee meeting that employers would need to check the immigration history of EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit. However, the Home Secretary very shortly afterwards confirmed that this was not the case and that even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, employers will enjoy a transition period before having to conduct detailed immigration checks on EU citizens living and working in the UK.
The Home Office has indicated that the employers will need to conduct the usual identity checks for employment, namely checking the employees' passport or ID card, but will not during this transition period have to consider how long the worker has been in the UK. This should provide some small comfort to those industries which rely heavily upon European workers, such as hospitality, agriculture and the NHS.
An uncertain future
If a Brexit deal is achieved, worker checks will not be needed and a future relationship will be agreed and take these concerns into account. However, the shape of the UK's future Brexit arrangements and immigration policy remain unclear, with divergence on the latter between those who wish to encourage only 'high value' immigrants and those concerned about sectors heavily reliant upon migrant labour. Brexit itself remains an uncertain prospect, with the possibility of a second referendum still open. As with all Brexit updates, for the moment, the best advice is to watch this space.