June 24, 2016

UK Immigration: The new reality and 5 key considerations following Brexit

The UK's decision to leave the EU is likely to transform the UK Immigration landscape. The vote to leave could well spell the end of one of the founding principles of the EU – the free movement of people.

EU national employees eligible for Permanent Residence should exercise those rights prior to the UK’s formal exit

In 2008, the UK implemented its Points Based System for non-European workers, but the vote to leave has the appearance of the most significant change in UK immigration law for a generation.  No substantive detail is available and so whilst any comment about new rules and regulations is speculation, here are 5 key considerations for the present time:

  1. The Brexit campaign has touted the implementation of a Points Based System for EU nationals seeking to work in the UK.  Presumably that new system would be broadly similar to the existing such system for non-EU nationals and aim to prioritise skilled/specialist workers, including those working in shortage occupations.  Again, time will tell how any new system will work and, equally, whether the UK negotiates itself into a position where EU free movement principles still apply, through EEA membership for example.  Any new rules would have an impact on EU national employees but also consultants and service providers throughout the supply chain.
  2. Once the UK has provided formal notice of exit, the status quo should remain for 2 years.  At the time of writing, it is understood that any notice of termination of the UK’s EU membership will not be before October 2016.    
  3. For existing EU national employees in the UK, the current position is they still have a right to work but it remains to be seen whether any transitional provisions are put in place and whether, once the UK’s EU membership is formally terminated, they will become subject to UK immigration control. EU national employees eligible for Permanent Residence should exercise those rights prior to the UK’s formal exit. This will ensure that they remain free of UK immigration control. 
  4. UK employers also need to be aware of the potential impact on British workers who are required to work in Europe.  If the UK imposes restrictions on European nationals working in the UK, such as through a new Points Based System, it is only reasonable to assume such restrictions would be reciprocated. 
  5. If other EU member states hold referendums on their own future within the EU, we can expect more turmoil on the nature of free movement principles. 

Until full detail is provided of any new system, the medium term future is uncertain for European nationals employed within the UK.  This update will be the first of many on the UK’s renegotiation of its position and changes to UK immigration law for European workers and beyond.  In the interim, we would be pleased to discuss with you how the future new reality may impact your business.