With EU and UK negotiators locked away from the media this week, commentators are expressing cautious optimism that a trade deal of some sort might be on the horizon. But while businesses await to find out what the trading environment will be after 31st December, we already know what needs to be done regarding overseas workers – and time is running out to ensure vital workers can still be employed in just 58 days’ time.
Freedom of movement was an early red line for Brexiteers, and the new points-based system was announced earlier this year. It means that from 1st January, employers wanting to recruit workers from outside the UK – including the EU – will need to be a Home Office licensed sponsor.
As well as this requirement, they will only be able to recruit overseas workers if the job they offer is at a ‘required skill level’ (generally A level or equivalent), and if the salary meets a minimum threshold. This is set at £25,6000, although there are some lower thresholds for certain specific ‘shortage occupations’.
Importantly for our region, these shortage occupations do not include farm workers, food production or social care, three of the groups where EU workers currently make up a large proportion of the workforce. No decision has yet been taken on whether the Seasonal Workers Pilot for agriculture will be extended when it comes to an end on 31st December.
All of this doesn’t come cheap: employers must pay a fee to register as a sponsor (up to £1,476) and then a further ‘Immigration Skills Charge’ of £1,000 a year for each skilled migrant worker they employ (there are discounts for smaller businesses).
The situation is different if you already employ EU workers. Provided they have settled or pre-settled status, employers do not need to register as a sponsor to continue employing these people – although they will need to register if they want to recruit new overseas workers.
Employers can continue to accept EU citizens’ passports and identity cards as evidence of their immigration status until 30th June 2021, but after that they will be responsible for carrying out right to work checks.
It is clear that the onus will be on employers to ensure that their workers have the right to work in the UK. For existing EU workers, businesses need to check that they have applied for settled status if they want to carry on working after 31st December.
Those needing to recruit after that date only have a short time left to register as a sponsor employer, and even then it will not be as easy to recruit overseas workers as it has been, especially in lower-paid and/or low-skill occupations.
Unlike importers and exporters who are still awaiting guidance on what they need to do at the end of the transition period, the picture for employers is pretty clear. Every employer needs to be checking how the new rules will affect them, and planning accordingly, because time is rapidly running out.
If you would like some further guidance, we have a Brexit Hub live on our website, with weekly updates and relevant information.