Written by Bhavneeta Limbachia and

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The government aims to have an innovative, highly skilled and highly productive workforce in the UKThere has been great emphasis on global mobility and encouraging the ‘best and the brightest’ come to the UK, but what about the loyal workers who are classified as lower-skilled? There is still a cloud of ambiguity over what will happen to lower skilled EU workers post Brexit under a new immigration system. 

There are several sectors which rely heavily on EU workers. For example, the construction, hospitality and the agriculture sectors employ a significant number of EU workers. Traditionally thousands and thousands of EU workers are recruited every year into these sectors without the need for employers to sponsor workers. These sectors may suffer enormously if they are left in a quandary of replacing their EU workers. Unfortunately, these workers will not be able to satisfy the skills requirement under the Tier 2 category of the points-based system and so how can employers in these sectors recruit EU workers who are residing outside of the UK? We explore some of the options below.

White Paper

The government’s White Paper which was published in December 2018 was unclear on this point. The current proposals indicate that EU workers would be able to come to the UK for a temporary period of 12 months, but they would not be able to extend their visa or switch to another visa category. There would be a cooling-off period of 12 months before they can apply again; emphasising that this is a short-term route. The issue with this proposal is that EU workers will no longer have any incentive to come to the UK for a temporary period as they will not have any job security. Further to this, they will not be able to bring their dependents to the UK with them. Consequently, this will place a heavy burden on employers who will have to face the expense of continuously training new staff.

Youth Mobility Scheme

There is also an indication that EU nationals from low-risk countries may be able to come to the UK on a Tier 5 ‘UK-EU Youth Mobility Scheme’ which would allow EU workers to come to the UK for a period up to 2 years. This will mirror the current Youth Mobility Scheme, which allows nationals of a selective number of countries such as Australia and Canada to come to the UK for a temporary period and is not limited to a particular level of skill set. However, they will not be able to switch categories in the UK and would be required to return to their country of origin upon expiry of their visa.

The limitation here is that the Youth Mobility Scheme is only available for those aged between 18 – 30. This would disadvantage those who are over the age of 30 and work in lower skilled jobs. Further to this, the aim of the Youth Mobility Scheme has traditionally been to allow young persons to experience the British culture for a short period of time as opposed to coming to the UK with the sole intention to work. The Scheme is also only limited to certain low risk countries and there is a cap for each country.

Temporary Government Schemes

There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding the notion of introducing new government schemes. For example, there is currently a government pilot scheme underway for seasonal workers in the agricultural sector, namely the Seasonable Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), which was also implemented in 2013. Currently seasonal workers are allowed to come to the UK for a short period of 6 months under this pilot scheme, but must return to their country of origin upon expiry of their visa.

Tier 3

The Government has never sought to implement Tier 3 of the points-based system which was originally intended to sponsor lower skilled workers. This could now be implemented in the form of work permits. Although this means that employers will be required to obtain a sponsorship licence which comes with the additional responsibility of sponsorship duties and costs in obtaining and maintaining a sponsorship licence.

In the meantime – European Temporary Leave to Remain (ETLR)

We still await confirmation in relation to lower skilled workers, nevertheless the government proposes that there will be an interim system in place in the event of a no deal Brexit, before the new immigration system is implemented in 2021. During this interim period, EU nationals will be able to enter the UK for a period of 3 months without a visa after 29 March 2019. However, if they want to remain in the UK for a further 3 months, then they will need to make an application for European Temporary Leave to Remain. They will then be granted a temporary period of 36 months to remain in the UK. The EU national will not be able to switch to another visa category in the UK and will not be able to settle. The EU national may then be able to switch categories once the new immigration system is implemented in 2021.

15th March 2019