Will EU nationals be able to live and work in the UK after Brexit?

With so many UK businesses relying on EU workers, the vote for Brexit has for two years cast a long shadow over HR departments, with lingering questions about how talent pipelines will be affected over the short-term and long-term. 

Last week, the government and the EU offered some long-awaited clarification, reaching an agreement that will allow EU nationals to continue to live and work in the UK after Brexit under the same terms as today. 

If approved by parliament, this will be a major win for businesses. Yet it’s important that HR teams don’t just see this as a chance to do nothing. Proactive actions will be critical to engaging and reassuring EU workers about their future at your organisation after Brexit. 

What’s been proposed?

Under the plans, EU nationals and their families living in the UK will be able to apply for ‘settled status’. This will give them the right to live, work and study in the UK, as well as to access public services and funds (such as pensions) on the same terms as British nationals. It also gives them the right to apply for British citizenship. 

To be eligible for settled status, EU nationals will need to arrive in the UK before 30 December 2020, and have lived here ‘continuously’ for five years – that means spending at least six months of each of these five years in the UK. Some exceptions will be made if people had to leave the country for compulsory military service or another important reason, such as work or study. 

Each family member will need to submit a separate application for settled status. Note that:

  • children born in the UK will automatically get British citizenship;
  • Irish nationals will automatically be granted leave to remain as well as freedom of movement between Great Britain and Ireland; 
  • spouses of British citizens will not be granted automatic leave to remain and will need to apply for ‘settled status’; and
  • rights for citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are still being negotiated.

EU nationals already living in the UK on 30 December 2020 but for less than five years will be able to apply for ‘pre-settled status’. This would grant them the right to stay in the UK for a further five years and to apply for ‘settled status’ once they have lived in the UK continuously for five years.

The application process is expected to be online and cost no more than £65 for an adult and £32.50 for a child. It will require proof of identity and length of residency as well as a criminal record check. As long as the scheme is approved by parliament, applications should be open from March 2019. 

You don’t need to do anything but…

If approved, employers will need to check the status of their EU nationals and ascertain their Right To Work as is currently the case. Yet, being pro-active about the process represents an opportunity for organisations to demonstrate that they value their people’s diverse contributions and talent. 

It will be useful to consider the following actions. 

  • Make it easy for your EU nationals to access the information that they need: why not send a letter or run a workshop explaining the process. Consider providing access to specialist advice for those slightly more complicated cases. 
  • Let your people know how you can support the application process. For example, issue a dated and signed letter confirming the duration of their employment as evidence of how long they have resided in the UK. You could even offer to help them fill in the application form. 
  • Discuss the implications of any postings outside the UK on their immigration status when discussing new projects or career opportunities.

Getting involved in the process will not only help you stay compliant, it will also prevent the loss of talent, strengthen loyalty and increase motivation. When you do this well, it will only have a positive effect on your productivity and competitiveness.