What no-deal Brexit would mean when hiring overseas workers

Amer Zaman, an immigration solicitor, who spoke with Martin Tripp about the effects of a no-deal Brexit on hiring..
He’s Zaman.

Both the EU and the British government have said that a no-deal Brexit is now the “most likely outcome”.

Should this come to pass, one of the many challenges that businesses will face is that of employing overseas staff.

For the last forty plus years, UK businesses have been able to employ staff from EU members states with little fuss. On January 1st, when the transition period expires, that is all likely to change unless a surprise last-minute deal is struck.

So what does this mean for business? I spoke to Amer Zaman, founder of immigration solicitors Cranbrook Legal, to try to get some clarity on the issue.

The first couple of points we discussed were actually faintly reassuring. Firstly, existing EU employees in the UK will not be affected by the change, as long as they have registered under the EU Settlement Scheme (though this has been far from perfect). Second, the Home Office has actually lowered the requirement of overseas workers to come to the UK: previously, you needed an undergraduate degree or similar to qualify (RQF level 6); that has now been lowered to A-level equivalent (RQF level 3) to encourage more applicants. Third, visas where work is not the primary reason for grant (such as spousal visas) should be largely unaffected.

But, and there had to be a but, as from January 1st, EU citizens looking for work will be treated exactly the same as non-EU citizens. This means that any company wishing to offer a role to any overseas citizen will need to apply to the Home Office for a sponsor’s licence.

Zaman explained the process: at a basic level, companies will need to show that they are registered with HMRC for PAYE purposes, that they have a physical presence, and can show accounts. They will also have to prove to the Home Office that their systems and monitoring processes are compliant with HO standards and that their HR systems are robust. They may then be given a licence to sponsor work visas – but will still be expected to be able to justify their decision to hire an overseas worker.

In the past, this has meant the onerous Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), where an advert has to be placed in two places for 28 days, or an agency is employed to search the market to establish whether there are any British citizens who could fulfil the requirement. Weirdly, the HO has abolished the formal RLMT requirement, but Zaman thinks they will still require evidence that the sponsor has done their due diligence before granting individual visas.

Zaman sees all this as having a real potential hit on the economy, and on EU citizens’ willingness to either stay in this country or apply in the first place. As he says: “for nearly fifty years, a Spanish worker could just come to the UK and stay, even for short stints. His family could come and visit at Christmas without a need for a visa – you won’t get that anymore. Why would they not prefer to work somewhere else in Europe?”

His view is that the immigration system in the UK is “not fit for purpose” already: it is “dogged, hard and inconvenient.”  Zaman expects “a lot of EU citizens to return to their own countries” and fears that the new immigration administration will struggle to fill the gap, particularly as the HO is already suffering a heavy backlog because of Covid.

So, we wait and see. Deal or no deal, we recommend preparing for the worst.

Martin Tripp

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Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the mediainformationtechnologycommunications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.