Brexit and HR – Retaining staff, Recruitment and Right to Work

With the UK set to leave the EU in a matter of months, there’s still a lot we don’t know. Working across borders already brings challenges for businesses but with Brexit looming, we expect some significant changes to working and recruiting outside of the EU.

The Home Office’s much awaited policy statement revealed the government’s plan for a new points-based immigration system. This affects UK employers looking to employ non-UK nationals from January 2021.

From 1st January 2021, freedom of movement between the UK and EU will end – anyone you want to recruit from outside the UK, excluding Irish citizens, will need to apply for permission first. Employers will need to have a sponsor licence to hire most workers from outside the UK.

This will create significant disruption for all employers who rely on workers from the EU who have yet to apply for a licence, so you will need to take action to ensure you are prepared for these changes.

Check your sector

The proposed changes will impact employers differently depending on the sectors they operate in, the skill level of the workers involved and the level of their need for non-UK national workers. The new points-based immigration system will require non UK nationals to obtain 70 points to qualify for a UK work visa. Roles that do not require A-Level qualifications (or higher) will not be able to easily obtain the required 70 points.  This will have a huge impact on low skilled roles such as agriculture, restaurants, hotels and care homes.  More details can be found here at

Current EU citizens

Staff working for you that are EU citizens are likely to be concerned about the security of their job, so make sure to reassure and engage them so they feel stable and do not look to leave. You will need to support them in applying for settled or pre-settled status under the European Settlement Scheme (EUSS) by 30th June 2021. You may need external HR support to enable you to brief managers so they can help their team members navigate the process and complete the online application.

Getting a license

Those employers without a sponsor licence must consider whether they would need a licence to expand their operations in the near future. If you know you will need a licence, it is advisable for the employer to apply as soon as possible to avoid disruption to your recruitment and business operations. Employers already with a sponsor licence must take action to prepare for the surge in EU national employees who must be sponsored. This will involve budgeting for the additional visa costs and work, and making sure recruiters and hiring managers are up to speed on right to work rules. These are complex, so you may wish to seek HR support to ensure those key team members have the information they need.

Retaining staff

To avoid losing staff members you need to make sure you are communicating with them regularly to reassure and show staff that their employers are planning and taking action to protect them and the business. If employees know they are valued and supported, this will help increase their loyalty to you.

For new hires, onboarding process should be carried out with the employee in mind. A standardised process will give all employees the same strong start and help them feel more involved from the outset.

Support employees

During this uncertain period, it’s a good idea to offer employees as much support and guidance as you can on areas such as applying for UK residence, dual citizenship or the EU Settlement Scheme. As an employer, it is unlawful to discriminate and any support you offer must be made available to all employees in your business whether they are UK citizens, EU nationals or from outside the EU.

Working from home

As homeworking arrangements may continue for a while to come, you might see a spike in requests for employees to work from “home” abroad. This could open a range of HR issues, so it’s important to take advice from your HR team before agreeing to anything. At the moment, UK nationals still have the right to live and work anywhere in the European Economic Area (EEA). But from January 2021, you may need to support UK employees travelling to the EU to work to apply for relevant visas and permits in specific EU countries, even if working only for a few days.

Ensuring your HR provision is set up in a way that supports your teams in the UK and internationally will help quickly navigate any challenges you come across. Difficult tasks such as cross-border recruitment, training and management may be better carried out externally to give you time to concentrate on what you do best – running your business.

For more information on how Reality HR can help you navigate the often complex issue of international human resources management, contact us on 01256 328428 or email: