Millions of EU citizens will have to apply under the settled status scheme to allow them to continue living and working in the UK.

On the 21st January, the Government outlined its plan B of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. It stated that the application fee for the settlement status scheme will be scrapped from the 30th March 2019 when the UK leaves the EU.

This announcement coincided with the third test phase of the scheme, in which EU citizens with a valid passport could apply early for their status to be confirmed. However, during this test phase they would still incur a fee of £65 (over 16 years of age) and £32.50 (under 16 years of age), albeit the government have committed to reimbursing fees for applications made between 21 January to 29 March 2019. The scheme will then fully open on the 30th March 2019.  The deadline for applying for settled status is 30 June 2021. However, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the deadline will be brought forward to 31 December 2020.

Although the current ‘right to work’ checks still apply until the end of 2020 and there will be no change to the rights and status of EU citizens living in the UK until 2021, supporting an employee with an early application is advisable.   This will provide a sense of job security for the employee. If the employee is granted settled status, it will also give the business reassurance that it will not lose the talent and skills, simply because the EU resident was not able to complete the application process correctly or on time.

All organisations should encourage and support their EU employees to register as soon as possible, as the process may involve rejection of applications especially if the employees are not aware of what they need to do.

How can Employers support their Employees?

Review and audit your existing workforce to assess how many employees are affected by Brexit and check their right to work status and documentation. The government website provides useful information. Organisations should also check non-EU employees’ documentation and right to work to ensure consistency. The audit will ensure all employees are accounted for and able to work in the UK before you support them with the settled status process.

Communicate –  There is no legal obligation for businesses to communicate the EU Settlement Scheme; however, most organisations are doing so. The EU settlement scheme for employers’ toolkit provides useful guidance and videos, leaflets, fact sheets and posters which can be distributed/displayed around the organisation.  However, employers should be cautious not to give immigration advice. Always refer the employee to specialists who can support them with specific queries. Having interpreters on hand may be beneficial where some workers are not able to fully understand the process.

Assist:

The process for uploading the documentation takes approximately 30 minutes for each employee –  the time is negligible compared to replacing his or her skills and experience. Be mindful of other employees to ensure non-EU workers don’t feel neglected or have cause for a discrimination claim. Any debate or banter amongst employees should be monitored carefully and ‘nip in the bud’ any potential issues.

Engage employees by having regular meetings or bulletins during this transition process. Morale and confidence may be low as a result of the negative press coverage with some businesses reluctant to employ EU workers due to the uncertainty of their status.  Organisations cannot afford to lose valuable talent. The main sectors impacted are hospitality, agriculture, health and social care where EU residents have made a significant contribution to the UK economy.

Retain – Businesses should plan ahead to replace talent lost as a result of Brexit. With over 3 million residents applying for settled status, it is anticipated that there will be refusals. Therefore, EU residents must be advised to apply as early as possible. Employers should also consider investing in training and development to equip their workforce with the skills needed for the future.

It is paramount that businesses retain current EU workers as future proposals of skills-based entry to the UK may deter unskilled EU residents from coming to the UK after Brexit.

Adopting a proactive approach to support and retain EU citizens will benefit organisations in the long term. Get in touch for more advice on how you can retain the best talent.