Flora Mewies

Flora Mewies, Ward Hadaway employment and immigration solicitor

Retaining skills in your business post-Brexit

With the UK leaving the European Union (EU), how will this affect companies looking to recruit and retain skilled overseas workers? Flora Mewies, employment and immigration solicitor at law firm Ward Hadaway, looks at the issue.

Our clients often discuss with us the difficulties they face recruiting and retaining both high and low skilled workers from within the existing UK workforce. This is a common problem across all businesses but the struggle is even more pronounced in industries such as manufacturing, hospitality, agricultural, technology and social care.

At present, nationals of another (EU) member state can move to the UK to work, be self-employed, self-sufficient or study. At the time of writing, the UK Government has indicated it wants to protect the status of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals currently in the UK but there has been no guidance on how this will work. Therefore businesses relying on EEA workers are concerned about them leaving in the run-up to Brexit and continuing to operate effectively post-Brexit if access to the EEA labour market is removed or restricted.

To prepare for Brexit, businesses need to act now. Firstly develop a communication strategy to show EEA workers your commitment to them, reassure them that at present nothing has changed and allow them to share their concerns. Secondly gather information on your workforce, including workers’ nationalities, whether they currently hold a visa or an EU registration or residency certificate, whether their right to work is dependent on a spouse or family member and when they first arrived in the UK. From this, you can identify EEA nationals who may consider applying for a registration certificate to demonstrate their current right to live and work in the UK or applying for a document certifying permanent residency in the UK if they have been in the UK for five continuous years. This puts the EEA worker in the best position to remain in the UK post-Brexit and the business in the best position to retain their skills and talent. There may also be workers within the business who are unaware they can apply to become a British citizen.

You may want to consider offering financial assistance for such applications through a loan agreement. You can protect your business by making it expressly clear that if the employee leaves pre-Brexit, you have the legal right to deduct the value of the loan from their salary.

You may find non-EEA workers living and working in the UK as a spouse or partner of an EEA national. Here, businesses may encourage their non-EEA workers to consider other options, such as applying for a visa under the UK’s points based system.

One visa worth considering is the tier one exceptional talent visa. Applicants require endorsement as an emerging or recognised leader in the fields of either science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts. Following endorsement, they apply for their visa and, if granted, can be employed, self-employed, volunteer, study and apply to bring their family to the UK.

Some roles in your business may qualify for sponsorship under the UK’s tier two general visa category, for non-EEA workers who will fill a vacant skilled role within the UK. No drastic changes to the UK’s points based system for non-EEA workers have yet been proposed post-Brexit. Although the cost of sponsorship of a tier two general worker is likely to increase (the Conservative manifesto proposed doubling this from £1,000 per person per year of their visa to £2,000), this is still a very effective option for filling skills shortages.

For many businesses, attracting and sourcing the required level of labour will be a key long-term operational issue affecting their business model. In particular, the hospitality, agricultural and manufacturing sectors will never have dealt with immigration issues at the volumes that may be required in the near future. You need to be clear about what steps you need to take and how to put your workers at the start of the queue with immigration applications and your recruitment processes.


Flora Mewies
0113 205 6797