In this article, we look at the shifting immigration landscape following the Withdrawal Agreement and what Guernsey employers can do to protect their workforce during and after the transition period.
The immigration landscape
The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which sets the terms for the UK's withdrawal from the EU took effect from 11pm on 31 January 2020. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the current immigration system, allowing freedom of movement, will continue to apply until 11pm on 31 December 2020. After that, the immigration landscape will change.
On 19 February 2020 the UK Home Office published a policy statement on the proposed new points based immigration intended to "give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents" but which will still allow for initiatives which "provide businesses with additional flexibility in the shorter term" in respect of lower skilled roles.
This is not dissimilar to the immigration policy which currently operates in Guernsey and which is expected to continue post-Brexit. Guernsey's work permit policy has long recognised the need for a mix of high skilled and lower skilled workers to ensure the right level of skill and resource in specific sectors at specific times, adjusting to changing needs. As recently as November 2019, Guernsey amended its work permit policy in response to recruitment problems experienced in the hospitality sector to allow hospitality workers to enter on short term (9 month) work permits. Earlier last year, Guernsey extended the length of certain short-term and medium-term permits by twelve months to relieve pressures in certain business sectors caused by Brexit uncertainty. These actions indicate a proactive and supportive approach on the part of Guernsey's government to business needs, which is welcomed.
Protecting your workforce
In taking steps to protect your workforce from the impact of Brexit, we suggest you consider the following:
- Any EU/EEA/Swiss national currently living in Guernsey or who moves to the Island before 11pm on 31 December 2020 and who (i) is not an Irish citizen or (ii) does not hold dual nationality (one of which is British/Irish), will need to apply to the Bailiwick of Guernsey Settlement Scheme by no later than 30 June 2021 to remain living in Guernsey after that date.
- Any EU/EEA/Swiss national with more than 5 years' continuous residence in Guernsey will be entitled to apply for settled status (indefinite leave to remain) under the scheme. Those with under 5 years' residence will be able to apply for pre-settled status (limited leave to remain) and then for settled status on reaching 5 years' residence.
- Carry out a staff audit to identify who needs to apply for status. As at 12 February 2020, only 2,154 (just over half of Guernsey's estimated 4000 EU/EEA/Swiss national residents) had submitted applications under the settlement scheme.
- Consider a communications strategy to affected employees, starting now, to encourage those who need to apply for settled/pre-settled status to do so as soon as possible. As part of this, make them aware it is free to apply. Keep track of who needs to apply, who has applied, and the outcome of each application.
- Ensure that, by 30 June 2021, any EU national who needs to apply for settled or presettled status has done so.
- For any new EU national hires between now and 31 December 2020, ensure that their employment is conditional on them having the right to live and work in Guernsey under the relevant immigration rules and population management law.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.