Employing EU workers in the UK from January 2021

Brexit has resulted in uncertainty about the relationship between the UK and the EU and, in particular, how the right of Freedom of Movement for citizens of its member states will be affected. From 1 January 2021 Freedom of Movement between the UK and EU will end. This is a drastic change from the current position where EU citizens are free to live and work in the UK without restriction or the need for a visa.

The UK officially left the EU on 31st January 2020 and entered the transition period, which ends on 31 December 2020. During this period many of the EU’s laws and policies have still applied while the terms of the relationship between the UK and the EU has been negotiated.

In the midst of the pandemic many employers have suffered disruption and the thought of Brexit has been largely distant. Employers who hire from outside the EU should be aware of the changes due to come into force in the New Year and how this may affect their business.

The UK is introducing a new immigration system which will change the way employers hire workers from the EU. EU citizens moving to the UK to work will need a visa in advance and employers will need a sponsor licence to hire workers from outside the UK. Employers are advised to register and start the process as soon as possible. You can apply online for a sponsor licence here

All EU and non-EU citizens entering the UK will be treated equally on a points based system. There will not be a general route for employers to recruit from outside the UK for jobs offering a salary below £20,480, or jobs at a skill level below RQF3 (A-Level). This means that for non-skilled roles, workers should be hired from the UK or follow another route.

Workers coming to work in the UK using the skilled route will need to demonstrate that:

  • There is a job offer from an approved sponsor;

  • They can speak English at a required level;

  • The job is be at an appropriate skill level; and

  • The salary is a minimum of £20,480 (they will need to make up some ‘tradeable’ points where the salary is below £25,600). 

We know there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new rules, and here are some of the most common questions:

What do I need to do to hire workers from outside the EU?

Register for a sponsor licence. The cost of a four year sponsor licence is:

  • £536 for a small company (annual turnover of £10.2 million or less and average no. of employers not more than 50)

  • £1,476 for a medium or large organisation

Hiring workers from outside the UK comes at a financial cost and there are various fees involved in addition to the application fee. Fees to hire a worker from outside of the EU can be around £7,500 for up to five years which is payable upfront. Fees can be much higher if you are sponsoring the applicants family.

There are different salary rules for workers in some health or education jobs and for those at the start of their careers. Click here to see the points based system.

Is my business eligible?

Existing sponsors will automatically be granted a new skilled worker licence or ICT licence, with an expiry date consistent with their current licence, and receive an appropriate allocation of certificates of sponsorship. 

You or your business must not have:

  • Unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes i.e. fraud or money laundering

  • Any history of failing to carry out your sponsorship duties

You will also need appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.

What about my existing employees/workers?

The new system will not apply to EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020. These workers and their family members are eligible to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme until 30 June 2021.

Will there be a change in how to check an applicant/workers right to work?

You will check a job applicant’s right to work in the same way as now until 30 June 2021. Until this date job applicants can prove their right to work in the following ways:

  • EU, EEA or Swiss citizens can use their passport or national identity card

  • non-EU, EEA or Swiss citizen family members can use an immigration status document

  • EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members can use the online right to work checking service.  

You have a duty not to discriminate against EU, EEA or Swiss citizens. You cannot require workers to show you their status under the EU Settlement Scheme until after 30 June 2021.

Do I need to specifically appoint people within my business to manage the sponsorship process within my business?

Yes. There are three main roles required; authorising officer, key contact and level 1 user. All three roles can either be filled by the same person or different people but must usually be paid members of staff or office holders. Staff carrying out these roles will be checked to ensure they are suitable.

Are there any other routes available?

Aside from the skilled worker route the other routes available are:

  • Graduate Route
    Available for international students who have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above, at a Higher Education Provider with a valid Tier 4 (student) visa. Graduates will be able to switch into skilled work once they have found a job.

  • Intra-Company transfer route
    This is where an applicant has been offered a role in the UK branch of the organisation they have already worked in.

  • Global Talent route
    This can be used if by someone who is a leader or potential leader in: academia or research, arts and culture or digital technology. They will need to apply first to be recognised as a leader.

  • Youth Mobility Scheme
    Available for those aged 18-30 who want to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years and have at least £1,890 in savings. They do not need to have an employer sponsor.

So, if you are an employer who intends to recruit from overseas (whether from the EU or further afield) after 1 January 2021, it is critical that you take steps now to become a licensed sponsor. As there is likely to be a surge in applications in the near future we recommend you act sooner rather than later to begin this process for a seamless transition into 2021.

If you are a business or individual and would like advice regarding the changes please get in touch with Reyhana Koser or Ellie Robinson-Brady or call 0800 118 1500.