With the end of the Brexit implementation period comes the end of the free movement of persons. This is the case irrespective of the fact that the United Kingdom has secured a trade deal with the European Union.
Employers and individuals must digest what the new immigration rules look like, both for:
- EEA and Swiss nationals (aside from Irish nationals) wishing to come to the United Kingdom; and
- British nationals wishing to go to the continent.
To date, the surge of sponsor licence applications that the Home Office was expecting to receive has not materialised. This is no doubt due in large part to the depressive effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economy and the need for businesses to focus on the basics of continuing to be able to trade.
The roll-out of an approved COVID-19 vaccine will improve the economic outlook in 2021 and employers should not defer considering whether and when they anticipate needing to make appropriate sponsor licence applications in the United Kingdom if they have no arrangements in place already. Being proactive about this will stop employers from being disadvantaged if a need to recruit an EEA national worker arises, particularly if there is an urgent need to fill an open vacancy or the employer wants to minimise the chance that their preferred candidate may take an offer with a shorter recruitment timeline. Sponsor licences will also be needed for intra-company transfers, which, for businesses that have set up a presence in the European Economic Area in recent years, may be something that has been overlooked or deprioritised while free movement arrangements have continued.
Similarly, businesses in the European Economic Area will need to engage with the issue of rolling UK nationals into their recruitment process for third-country nationals.
EU Settlement Scheme
In the United Kingdom, many EEA nationals will still be able to take advantage of the EU Settlement Scheme, but factors such as absences must be carefully understood and monitored to ensure that they are eligible.(1)
Individuals who are ineligible under the EU Settlement Scheme or the equivalent schemes in the European Economic Area will also need to make significant adjustments to how they think about international moves between the United Kingdom and the European Economic Area from an immigration perspective. The cost of immigration applications under domestic rules is substantial and the process is complex and bureaucratic. Negotiating the process will require careful planning and budgeting rather than just deciding to get on a plane.
However, the presence of a trade deal does make the expansion of mobility arrangements less complex to negotiate and administer in the future. An initial EU trade deal opens up the possibility of uniform arrangements being secured for all EU countries on issues such as youth mobility under an expanded deal in due course, with other EEA countries likely to follow suit.
Employers, both in the United Kingdom and the European Economic Area, will need to engage with the strategic and operational implications of free movement ending. Individuals may also need assistance to negotiate domestic immigration laws when planning international moves.
(1) For further information please see “Some EEA nationals must return to the UK by 31 December 2020 to settle under EU Settlement Scheme”.
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