The end of freedom of movement and changes to immigration rules effective from 1 January 2021 affect employee recruitment, while travel limits for business travel also need to be factored in. Lindsey Barras, immigration lead at PwC UK, sets out five tips for employers
There have been a number of starts and stops during the Brexit process but we know for certain that the new immigration system is now in place, and that freedom of movement ends when the transition period does on 31 December 2020.
This applies whether or not a free trade agreement is reached. With around three weeks of the year remaining, being ready for immigration changes is still achievable but those businesses whose preparations are lagging must act now to make sure the new year does not start with disruption and surprises for leadership, employees, or customers.
A PwC survey asked over 220 respondents how prepared they felt for immigration changes and revealed an average score of 5.6 out of 10, with 10 being completely prepared and 1 being unprepared.
Respondents were asked to consider factors such as the sponsor licence needed to employ non-settled workers, immigration policies, which employees/job roles could be affected, cost, communications, and the compliance of internal systems with Home Office requirements.
The effect of immigration changes is not homogenous across industries. In financial services or tech, for example, reliance on EU-based subsidiaries to give access to local markets may increase the need for weekly international commutes.
Meanwhile, the new points-based system will impact sectors such as retail, and hospitality and leisure most due to the skills requirements.
Whether you’re used to flying to Frankfurt to meet clients, hiring non-settled workers to your UK business, or relying on a lorry driver crossing borders on time, there are new requirements to consider.
There are still some unknowns - for example, depending on the outcome of negotiations, social security requirements may add cost and complexity - but businesses should deal with what is known now.
Five things you need to know
1. Apply for a sponsor licence - under the new rules, the cost and complexity of hiring non-settled workers will increase, and organisations wishing to hire non-settled workers will need a sponsor licence.
Currently there are only 32,093 sponsor licences in the UK, which is a very low number in comparison to the number of businesses. A quarter of respondents’ organisations do not have one. The application typically takes six to eight weeks so this is becoming urgent.
2. Prepare for business travel changes - there were over six million business trips between the UK and EU in 2019 and, while 2020 levels are understandably suppressed, businesses will see some international travel as essential in future. Business travellers will need to monitor their duties and activities when on their trip, as depending on what they are doing they may require work authorisation.
Additionally, UK nationals going to the EU for both business or personal reasons will be subject to a 90-day cap in a 180-day rolling period for stays in the Schengen Zone, which covers the majority of the EU - some countries will limit this further. EU nationals visiting the UK will be allowed to travel for up to six months.
Frequent business travellers should check whether they are eligible for a frontier worker permit, which would allow them to travel freely between the UK and a specific EU country. They will need evidence that they worked in the UK before 31 December 2020 in order to qualify.
3. Communicate clearly and consistently - the end of freedom of movement in particular is a challenging and emotional topic for many people, while non-compliance with new business travel rules could result in reputational risk and fines. Our data shows that only about 40% of employers have a strategy for helping employees understand how the changes will affect them.
Different employee populations will need different information, and this also applies to those currently on furlough.
4. Consider the impact on other processes such as recruiting and onboarding, and data protection. Questions employers should ask themselves include:
- how will our recruitment and onboarding processes work for non-UK nationals while remote working continues?
- how can we support EU nationals seeking settled status?
- are there any gaps in our employee data protection and privacy considerations if a trade deal does not come with a data adequacy decision?
5. Build immigration considerations into the wider strategy - immigration should be considered within the wider context of skills, technology, and social expectation and impact.
About the author
Lindsey Barras is immigration lead at PwC UK