People Practice » Business immigration: managing the post-Brexit future

Recent research from law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, has emphasised the UK’s reliance on accessing EU talent, with 31% of UK businesses employing over 50 EU workers and 12 per cent having more than 3,000. However, despite this, a large proportion (76%) have no contingency funds in place for future recruitment outside of the EU.

With the potential for organisations to experience significant disruption if they fail to make provisions, it is essential that they take a proactive approach to protecting and assisting EU workers living in the UK.

However, in order to future-proof their recruitment strategies, a longer-term approach is also crucial, and careful thought should be given to methods for plugging skills gaps, including options for sourcing talent from non-EU markets post-Brexit.

In the two years plus since the EU referendum, uncertainty has been the prevailing feature of the UK business landscape. In particular, companies are feeling the impact of changes to the domestic and international immigration landscapes, with one in three businesses experiencing first-hand a decrease in the number of EU workers seeking employment in the UK.

Despite this trend, there are reasons to be positive, including the first phase of the EU Settlement Pilot Scheme, a key element of the process for gaining settled status, which allows EU citizens to continue living and working in the UK from 2021, when a new skills-based immigration system is introduced.

Over 90% of applications were concluded during this test phase. While only recently launched to the general public on 30 March, it was reported by the Home Office that in the opening weekend of the scheme over 50,000 applications were received and the scheme has so far received positive feedback, with the majority of applications being processed efficiently and in good time.

An essential first step for businesses looking to protect their EU workforce is to gain a better understanding of their employment position by conducting a thorough review of workers’ individual profiles. Assessing the exact number of EU employees in the organisation and their immigration statuses will allow companies to put the right plans in place to help secure their residency rights.

Another important process which can help to enhance business’ knowledge of the make-up of their workforce is right-to-work checks, which should be undertaken meticulously for each and every employee.

While these form part of the initial recruitment process, repeating them can play an important role in ensuring that employers do not neglect any of their obligations to the workforce, thereby serving as a useful checklist.

As part of their post-Brexit immigration planning, businesses should not underestimate the importance of effective communication to emphasise to employees their value within the organisation, and the steps being undertaken by the employer to help safeguard their future in the UK.

While the most appropriate method of providing this reassurance is likely to vary from business-to-business, some examples include immigration workshops, Q&A sessions and business-wide surveys.

In a more general sense, investing time and effort in developing a strong relationship with employees can go a long way towards making the business’ people feel supported at a time of change, helping to mitigate any potential negative impact on business performance.

EU workers have now received the reassurance that as long as they meet specific criteria, they will be eligible to apply for settled status to remain living and working in the UK once it leaves the EU.

However, in order to thoroughly protect themselves against potential skills gaps in the years ahead, its vital that companies also review whether there is a need to recruit from outside of the EU. If so, it’s important that business owners recognise the potential costs and additional responsibilities involved in following such a strategy.

While research reveals that a large number of businesses have not yet given thought to the extra administrative burden and resource needed for post-Brexit recruitment outside of the EU, applying for sponsor licenses and Tier 2 Visas could have a noticeable impact on an organisation’s cost base.

In fact, for a single applicant on a three-year contract, who wants to bring their family to the UK, a Tier 2 Visa is likely to cost at least £11,000. With this in mind, business owners should waste no time in putting the necessary contingency funds for non-EU recruitment in place.

Seeking the support of experts can help organisations to come up with the most accurate figure possible, whilst also helping them to move through the immigrations system smoothly.

Relevant skills

When developing their recruitment strategy for life outside of the EU, organisations should also give careful thought to which global markets offer the right skills base for their particular business, with specific geographies gaining reputations as hubs for particular skill sets in recent years.

For example, for tech businesses, the United States is a well-known hotbed for computer science talent, and Russia has a well-established reputation for aeronautical engineering expertise.

For businesses operating to tight margins, the levels of investment involved in recruiting from far-flung territories may simply be unfeasible and as such, they should consider how best to source skilled workers from local talent pools.

As part of their efforts to future-proof the business’ talent pipeline, business owners should invest time in engaging and forging links with local education institutions, such as universities and colleges.

Part of this process should involve promoting the fact that the organisation is searching for employees as well as promoting available in-house training opportunities. Regularly liaising with careers officers and training representatives is also key to ensuring candidates know about the roles available in their local area.

Similarly, tapping into apprenticeship schemes, which develop the careers of young people by supporting their studies and offering on-the-job training can go a long way to protecting the business against the impact of immigration changes. Finally, it’s important not to forget about the wealth of talent and potential already held within the business.

A commitment to developing the skills of existing employees, and promoting them through the company, will have benefits not only in terms of avoiding unnecessary recruitment costs, but could also have a positive impact on the organisation’s employee brand.

While the end of free movement undoubtedly poses a number of challenges when it comes to post-Brexit recruitment, adopting a positive and proactive outlook is key.

UK businesses that give careful thought to mitigation strategies now, including how to protect EU talent, recruit from non-EU territories and tap into the domestic employee base, can continue to benefit from a skilled and diverse workforce, whatever the next few months’ political developments bring.