Refreshment - EU workers post-Brexit

Published: 28/07/2016

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) recently set out its priorities for Brexit in a letter to the Prime Minister (1). The industry relies heavily on EU workers, so unsurprisingly the FDF requested reassurances about the status of EU nationals currently working in the UK and continuing access to EU workers at all skill levels. However, Theresa May will not concede anything without negotiating reciprocal arrangements for British expats. Brexit minister, David Davis has stated that his goal is to negotiate free trade without free movement.

For now the UK is still a member of the EU and EEA nationals continue to enjoy free movement rights. However, many are feeling unsettled. It is also getting harder to recruit, following a warning that if workers come to the UK knowing we intend to leave the EU, they may not be allowed to stay post-Brexit.

EU nationals already here should obtain evidence of their entitlement to remain in the UK. Employers can share our briefing note on the steps EU nationals should be taking now. They can also help employees (and former employees) with applications for residence cards, by reissuing payslips to those who have lost the originals and sharing records of holidays and overseas business trips with those struggling to identify time spent outside the UK.

In the future more roles should be filled by British nationals. However, in many cases employers turned to the EU for seasonal workers and highly skilled specialists in areas such as food technology, because they were unable to recruit locally.

If the EU worker tap is turned off, employers may instead try to attract workers with Tier 5 Youth Mobility visas. Eligibility is restricted to those aged 18-30 from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and Taiwan. Quotas are in place, linked to reciprocal schemes for young Brits.

The sector could also lobby the government to open Tier 3 of the Points Based System (PBS). This has never gone live, but was included to provide for the sponsorship of workers needed to fill lower skilled jobs.

Tier 2 of the PBS already allows employers to sponsor workers for skilled roles where they can demonstrate they are unable to find a settled worker with the skills required for the job. In future it may become necessary to use this to sponsor EU nationals. However, there is currently a limit of 20,700 people per annum who can be sponsored to come to the UK in this category.

The government’s preference is to develop home-grown talent. Employers will need to show they have embraced this, for example through graduate and apprenticeship programmes, before they can successfully make the case for more EU workers.


The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding EU workers post-Brexit, please contact Clare Hedges or a member of Birketts Immigration Team. Law covered as at July 2016.

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