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The post-Brexit immigration system. What is the future for EU workers?

Oct 2nd, 2018

Concerns regarding the high levels of immigration were a major driving force behind the European Union referendum and the vote to leave in June 2016. This week Teresa May has declared that freedom of movement will end “once and for all’’ when the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.

The current rules for immigration

EU freedom of movement allows citizens from countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to work freely within the UK. People from any other country must apply for a visa.

Workers can apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa if they have been offered a skilled job in the UK by a licensed sponsor and are from outside the EEA and Switzerland. There are other eligibility requirements, including for the job to pay at least £30,000 per year.

No priority for EU migrants

Mrs May has announced that the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system will no longer give priority to EU migrants. People from the EU who want to work in UK will be treated the same as those from any other part of the world.

Skills-based system

Mrs May said that the UK post-Brexit will be “A skills-based system where it is workers’ skills that matter”.

The government is due to publish a policy paper setting out the new system this autumn. Under the proposals:

  • Workers wanting to stay in the UK long term will need to meet minimum salary thresholds. According to Mrs May, thus is to "ensure [foreign workers] are not competing with people already in the UK."
  • Successful high-skilled workers will be able to bring their immediate family to the UK, if sponsored by their future employers.

This raises concerns for employers who largely rely on low-skilled workers; for example in industries such as hospitality and agriculture.

When asked whether exemptions would be made for industries requiring high levels of unskilled labour, Mrs May said "the further needs of the economy" would be recognised, but that there would not be "lots of exemptions" for different sectors.

The policy paper should provide employers with more clarity about how the immigration system will work, ahead of new legislation next year. Until then, it is advisable to enter into dialogue with current employees and potential future employees who may be affected and make preparations to act swiftly once the new rules are established.

If you have any queries about employment or business immigration law post-Brexit, please contact us.

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