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March 2 2020

Employers warned to expect continued uncertainty as ‘Brexit day’ arrives

As the UK’s membership of the EU comes to an end at 11pm tonight, employers have been told to expect continued uncertainty over the coming months and the government continues to negotiate its future relationship with the bloc.

The official Brexit day comes at the end of a busy week for immigration policy, as the government yesterday published the details of its new ‘fast track’ visa, which replaces the current Tier 1 Exceptional Talent scheme, in effect expanding it to include scientists, researchers and mathematicians.

The government said under the new Global Talent scheme, as it is known, scientists and researchers will not be required to have an offer of employment before arriving in the UK and will provide an accelerated path to settlement for all individuals who are endorsed on the route.

This will allow higher education, research institutes and eligible public sector employers to recruit talent from abroad after Brexit.

The new scheme will also remove the cap that the current Tier 1 scheme has, although critics have pointed out that the Tier 1 visa cap was never reached. The scheme will open on 20 February.

Chetal Patel, partner at Bates Wells, said the timing of the Global Talent visa was “pivotal” as the UK leaves the European Union. But, she said it was still unclear if employers would see the new route as a long-term solution or simply a PR exercise.

“While this latest development is welcome news for some, questions remain as to how Whitehall will create a fully functioning immigration system by January 2021 – a tall order given the time and resource which will be spent during the transitional period,” she said.

Yesterday’s changes are part of the initial phase of wider reforms to the UK’s immigration system post-Brexit, which the government has said will include an Australian style points-based immigration system.

Earlier this week the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the government’s migration advisors, put forward its recommendations for the UK’s future immigration system, calling for an overhaul of the Tier 1 visa and for the salary threshold for migrants to be dropped from £30,000 to £25,600.

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD, said the broad direction of the MAC’s suggestions and the introduction of the Global Talent visa was welcome news for employers. 

But, he said many employers were still ill-prepared for the introduction of restrictions for EU citizens. “This is partly because there remains uncertainty about the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy, especially in terms of the Australian points-based system that has been heavily publicised by the new Conservative administration,” he said.

“While employers can be forgiven, on the one hand, for not preparing because of this uncertainty, it is extremely likely that the proposals in the [December] white paper will become law,” He added.

Gillian McKearney, head of UK Immigration at Fieldfisher, said the coming few months would be critical for employers, especially those with large numbers of EU nationals, to ensure they have a process in place to manage the right to work status for their EU employees.

She said  that while the government’s EU Settlement Scheme did provide a route for EU citizens currently living in the UK to stay beyond Brexit, recent figures suggest up to 1 million eligible people have yet to apply to the scheme.

“This is something to take into consideration, and business management should take on the responsibility of encouraging and supporting their EU employees to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and tracking those who do not wish to,” McKearney said.