From bankers to pickers – can your business function with a reduced European workforce?

As the Brexit negotiations with the EU are due to start next month, the news increasingly focuses on the future for those parts of the economy reliant on EEA workers. From City bankers to fruit pickers, NHS doctors, nurses and workers, care homes workers, waiters and hotel workers, will Britain’s doors close? Many businesses are wondering how to plan in the absence of clear guidance from the government.

Protecting your existing workforce: Permanent Residence and Registration Certificates

Business can hope that (surely?) there will be some form of transitional provision, or incorporation of existing rights under the Citizen’s Directive into UK domestic law post March 2019. In this way, existing residents would have a degree of protection. However for every transitional provision there are likely to be cut off points and perhaps not every EU citizen resident here will benefit from these, if for example they have only resided relatively recently.

Accordingly, our advice is for every business to carry out an audit of its existing workforce to ascertain how reliant it is on EEA nationals. If your business relies on EEA nationals now, it would indeed make sense to engage with these EEA nationals and encourage them to apply for either Permanent Residence or a Registration Certificate. This is a relatively simple process and will at least preserve the rights of your existing EEA workers to stay post Brexit.

Planning the recruitment of your post Brexit workforce: Sponsor Licences

The government is very clear now that that after March 2019 there will no longer be free movement provisions for EU nationals to come to the UK. That will require, presumably, that EEA nationals wishing to work in Britain apply for a ‘work permit’. In effect EU citizens wishing to come to the UK will be in the same bracket as non-EU citizens from around the world. Currently, employers wishing to employ nationals from outside the EEA, can do so under the Tier 2 work permit system. This system requires employers to obtain a Sponsor Licence.

Sponsor licences are currently issued for a 4 year period. They can also be renewed after that period. Whilst it is very hard to predict, it would seem unlikely that any government would require the approximately 30,000 existing sponsors to re-register under a new scheme. The hope would be that the existing sponsor scheme would continue and simply be expanded to include EEA nationals.

If your business wants to be able to plan for its recruitment post Brexit, we strongly recommend that, if not already licensed, you take steps to apply for a sponsor licence. Because a sponsor licence is valid for 4 years, getting a sponsor licence now will give you a smooth ride during what are bound to be turbulent times in the immigration waters in March 2019 and avoid being caught in a scramble to seek a licence then.

If your organisation would like to plan an immigration audit of its workforce or obtain information on how to apply for a sponsor licence to employ foreign nationals, please contact our Immigration Team.


The material contained in this guide is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances and before action is taken.

© Miller Rosenfalck LLP March 2017

Please contact:

Koshi Blavo Barna

DD +44 (0)20 7553 6602

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