The Home Office has recently issued a factsheet indicating that freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on 31 October 2019 and that arrangements for people coming to the UK for longer periods for work or study will change. What does this mean in practice and how should employers prepare?
A draft Immigration Bill drafted published by Theresa May’s government had already envisaged an end to free movement following a no-deal exit. However, to avoid a “cliff-edge” until a new immigration system could be put in place, the Home Office planned to introduce transitional arrangements for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members arriving in the UK between exit date and 31 December 2020. Those coming to the UK for short visits for any reason would be able to enter as they can now and stay for up to three months for each entry. Those wishing to stay in the UK for longer would need to apply to the Home Office for EU temporary leave to remain within three months of arrival (giving 36 months’ permission to live, work and study) after which they would need to apply under the UK’s future immigration system (expected to be introduced from January 2021).
The Home Office announcement and further reports now indicate the shelving of these transitional arrangements to be replaced by a new immigration system immediately applicable to new arrivals following a no-deal exit. There is very unlikely to be the time and resource to put in place such a system or the legislation which will underpin it. The Home Office is already stretched and the UK’s current Points Based System took nearly four years to design and implement. We may, therefore, still end up with some form of transitional registration system but the Government’s current direction of travel suggests this is likely to be more onerous than the EU temporary leave envisaged under Theresa May. Employers who had good reason to believe that they would be able to continue to recruit from the EU with relative ease until the end of 2020 (even in a no-deal scenario), should prepare for the possibility of new hires arriving the EU from 31 October 2019 needing some form of immigration permission prior to starting work. Exactly what this will entail, including the qualifying criteria, cost and application process, remains to be seen and we will providing updates as matters develop.
In any event, the Government has made clear that an immediate end to free movement following a no-deal exit will not affect the ability of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their families already resident in the UK by 31 October 2019 to continue living and working here, as long as they apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme before 31 December 2020. Nonetheless, as a precaution, employers should support their affected employees to obtain (or apply for) pre-settled or settled status under the Scheme before 31 October 2019 (or at least prior to their next trip outside the UK) to reduce difficulties on re-entry by having to prove their prior UK residence by some other means. Current average processing times under the Scheme are reasonably quick – between one and four days. Those travelling outside the UK after 31 October and before they have been granted status would be well-advised to take with them some proof that they are already resident in the UK (ideally in line with the documentary evidence recommended by the Home Office when applying under the Scheme such as recent UK payslips, an employer letter or utility bill).