The terms of Brexit may be uncertain but one thing we do know is that HR teams need to anticipate workforce changes. Steve Smith from Sterling Talent Solutions, outlines the key ways to ensure a smooth transition.
With just six months to go until the UK is set to leave the EU, it’s still unclear exactly what impact Brexit will have on immigration and hiring European workers.
HR must be prepared for any changes on the horizon if they are to protect their organisations from risk and successfully manage a migrant workforce in a post-Brexit world, while continuing to meet compliance obligations.
What now for EU citizens in the UK?
The UK and the EU have provisionally agreed a reasonable deal for European nationals already living in the UK; however a final UK and EU deal is required before it is enshrined in law.
If you have EU citizens working for you, they can still continue to make applications under EU law for a registration certificate or a permanent residence card. They can also apply for British citizenship if they have held permanent residence for 12 months.
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. If a Brexit deal is reached, the UK will then enter a transition phase, which will run until 31 December 2020, during which EU nationals will be able to move freely in the UK.
EU citizens entering and living in the UK during this phase will need to apply for pre-settled or settled status, depending on how long they have resided in the UK. On 1 January 2021, the transition period, and free movement, will end.
End of preferential status?
A government commissioned migration report, published in September by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), has recommended that EU citizens should not be given preferential access to the UK labour market after Brexit, unless a deal is negotiated for them.
“If the UK decides on its new immigration system in isolation from the negotiations about the future relationship with the EU, we do not see compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules to EEA and non-EEA citizens,” the committee said.
The Cabinet agreed in principle that EU nationals should be subject to the same immigration rules as other migrants after Brexit
The report also recommended implementing a policy that gives greater access to higher-skilled migration, while limiting access to lower-skilled workers.
In response to this, the Cabinet agreed in principle that EU nationals should be subject to the same immigration rules as other migrants after Brexit, if they want to live and work in the UK.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the implications of Brexit, it can be difficult for HR departments to know how to prepare. With that in mind, below are six key ways you can put measures in place to mitigate potential issues.
1. Find out who’s affected in your organisation
If you’re unsure how many EU nationals you employ, and who needs to go through the settled status scheme, now is the time to collect and maintain accurate records of all EU employees.
Speaking on a recent webinar hosted by Sterling Talent Solutions on Brexit and immigration, Natasha Catterson, partner at Fragomen LLP, said: “It’s useful to gather the data on where you have EU nationals so that you can analyse what types of roles they are doing and what the salary levels are for those positions. Once you have that data, you’ll be able to develop policies and look at your recruitment practices to see what may need to change in light of Brexit.”
A recent report on immigration and Brexit, by the CIPD and Fragomen, suggests several ways to collect the data: asking employees to update their HR records; running surveys; relying on right to work checks from when they began employment; organising ‘bring your passport to work’ days, so managers can make checks and take copies of employees’ documents.
Reassurance can be given to those already resident in the UK about the settled status scheme and how user-friendly it looks
2. Communicate effectively with staff
There is a great deal of uncertainty around Brexit, and this has the potential to cause confusion and panic amongst staff. However, there are some positive messages you can communicate to your workforce.
“Some reassurance can be given to those already resident in the UK about the settled status scheme and how user-friendly it looks,” says Catterson. “So getting messages out to your staff, whether that is by way of FAQ documents or holding town hall sessions, is really critical to help reassure them.”
3. Devise supportive policies
Once you have a clear idea of your population, you can devise policies on recruitment strategy, as well as what kind of support you will be offering to your EU workers as they go through the settled status scheme.
This could be, for example, whether you are going to provide any financial support to pay the £65 application cost, or if you are going to enable them to speak with legal advisors regarding their application.
4. Monitor policy success
You’ll need to monitor how well these policies are working in practice, to enable you to look ahead to workforce planning. In addition, the CIPD suggests employers should closely monitor the following:
Company satisfaction: levels are falling in employee attitude surveys among non-UK nationals
Patterns of job applications: starting to shift in advance of changes to immigration rules
Intention to leave figures: increasing among non-UK nationals
Resignations: more EU workers are resigning than would normally be the case
5. Workforce planning
No matter what the impact of Brexit may be on your organisation, it’s essential that HR works with executives and managers on company strategy, to ensure a plan is in place to provide the talent and skills required to succeed.
The CIPD and Fragomen report warned that “an end to free movement will inevitably mean it becomes more difficult to employ EEA nationals”, therefore “many businesses are thinking about how they can change the way they recruit”, while others are “readying themselves to present a case to the Home Office when they consult on a new immigration policy”.
Catterson suggests: “Look at the MAC recommendations and any proposals that come out of government later this year, to see what steps you may need to take from both a recruitment and retention point of view.”
6. Stay compliant
Finally, to protect your organisation and ensure your business remains compliant, it’s recommended you continue to screen foreign nationals and ensure you carry out right to work checks.
Sterling Talent Solution’s UK Screening Trends 2018 report found that 88% of respondents consider right to work checks as extremely important. However, it is perhaps alarming that this figure is not 100% as performing a right to work check is a legal obligation for all employers – failure to do so could result in fines of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker found in your employment.
It’s therefore essential you conduct a full right to work check for all new employees, before they start working for you, and record the date of the check.
Sterling’s screening trends report also revealed that 88% of companies employ foreign workers, however just 45% conduct global background checks. There can be considerable complexity when it comes to carrying out global background checks, which may go some way to explaining this screening ‘gap’.
Leaning on the expertise of an expert third party may simplify this process while speeding up the hiring process and mitigating the risk of a bad hire.
Interested in this topic? You may also enjoy reading: EU-citizen registration trial and practical steps employers can take to prepare for Brexit.
About Steve Smith
Steve is the Managing Director for Sterling EMEA, having originally joined Sterling in 2015 as head of Sales for UK&I. Previously, Steve spent nearly 10 years at REED, the leading recruiting firm in the UK, where he worked closely with senior HR professionals and Talent Acquisition leaders across multiple sectors helping to shape successful hiring programmes. He now leads Sterling's EMEA region, with strategic and operational responsibility for delivering robust background screening and identity solutions for clients and driving business growth for Sterling. Steve holds a BA from Cardiff University and is a regular speaker at HR and recruitment events across Europe.