The impact of Brexit on Immigration Law – what employers need to know

Immigration rules can change rapidly and employers must ensure they and their workforce are protected.

Brexit discussions are ongoing and there is still uncertainty about when and how the United Kingdom (UK) will leave the European Union (EU). When the time does come, however, there is no doubt that our departure from the EU will significantly change the future of travel and migration across the continent.

Indeed, at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in October, Home Secretary, Priti Patel vowed to end freedom of movement “once and for all” by introducing an Australian-style points-based immigration system.

In the meantime, the Government has appointed the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise on future immigration policy. It has also introduced a number of new immigration schemes including the EU Settlement Scheme, and a Seasonal Workers Pilot. As part of the Government’s proposed future skills-based immigration system which is due to be introduced in 2021, there would be a new visa route into the UK for temporary, short term, lower skilled workers. These changes are likely to have big impacts for employers not just in East Anglia, but across the country.

Some of the sectors most likely to be affected by immigration changes which are likely to result from Brexit are the horticulture sector, which relies heavily on seasonal workers, and construction and social care, where employers have become reliant on lower-skilled workers.

Seasonal Workers Pilot

The Seasonal Workers Pilot was announced in September last year and is a national scheme enabling fruit and vegetable farmers to employ migrant workers for seasonal work for up to six months. During busy seasons, an estimated 2,500 workers will be able to come to work in the UK each year to help alleviate labour shortages in the industry, which has grown by 130% over the last 20 years.

According to the Home Office, crop maintenance, harvesting, packing and processing of crops will all be included under the two-year pilot scheme.

Temporary Short-Term Workers

If the Government’s proposed reforms are introduced as anticipated in 2021, a new visa route for lower

skilled, short-term workers will come into play and will have big impacts for sectors such as construction and social care.

The visa will allow people to work in the country for a maximum of 12 months at a time. However, it won’t allow migrants to access welfare benefits or bring dependants into the country with them. Those who are working under this visa also won’t be able to extend their stay in the UK and it will come with a 12-month cooling off period once it has expired to prevent people from effectively working in the UK permanently.

This change could have huge ramifications for businesses; a potential lack of consistency within the workforce could make strategic, long-term planning incredibly difficult. Furthermore, the Home Office has said that this arrangement will be kept under review and if economic conditions in the UK change, this route of entry could be abolished.

EU Settlement Scheme

Meanwhile, for those EU citizens who have lived in the UK for years or even decades, the changes afoot will have a big impact on them too.

There is a common misconception that EU citizens who have lived and worked in the UK for 10, 20 or 30 plus years won’t be affected because they are already established here, but that’s not the case.

EU nationals currently living in the UK who are looking to continue living here beyond 30 June 2021 should apply for residence via the EU Settlement Scheme. If they have been living in the UK for a period of five years they can apply for ‘settled status’, or ‘pre-settled status’ if they have lived in the UK for less than five years. Whichever route they go down, they will need to apply by the end of December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and they will have to prove they were living here prior to 31st October 2019.

Different provisions apply to those EU migrants entering the UK after the UK has departed from the EU. They will be able to apply for a European temporary leave to remain which will grant them status for three years. At the end of the three-year period, they will need to comply with the Government’s usual Immigration Rules if they want to remain in the UK.

While it is down to the individual to make an application, employers have a responsibility to ensure that their EU migrant workers have their legal documentation in place. Once the scheme has ended in 2021, EU workers who have not been granted a status will be living and working in the UK illegally, and any businesses found to be employing illegal workers could face a fine of up to £20,000.


Although there are routes in place to support sectors relying on EU migrant workers and citizens who want to secure their status in the UK, the impact of Brexit on immigration is clear to see.

Applications for British citizenship have risen dramatically – 30,000 EU nationals applied for British citizenship between June 2016 and June 2017, double the previous year, and the number of German, Italian and French nationals applying has more than trebled in three years. EU nationals now account for nearly 30% of all British citizenship applications compared with about 10% in June 2016.

Despite these increases, only 1.5 million of the UK’s three and a half million EU citizens have applied for settled status. Furthermore, the net migration of EU nationals has actually fallen to its lowest level in more than five years. In the year ending March 2018, just under 90,000 EU nationals migrated to the UK, down from just under 190,000 in the year ending June 2016.

Elsewhere, figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that the UK currently has the lowest level of births for over 12 years and that immigration is supporting the UK in order to maintain the population at a level that does not threaten the UK’s economy.

The significant decrease in migration, coupled with the proposed restrictions on EU migrant workers, is adding to fears that following Brexit and the introduction of the Government’s proposed new immigration system in 2021, there will be a significant skills shortage in various areas of the UK’s economy.

The specialist Immigration team at Ellisons Solicitors is on hand to support businesses through these uncertain times and can keep you up-to-date with the latest changes in immigration law as they happen.

Sohan Sidhu

Partner and Immigration Solicitor, Ellisons Solicitors incorporating Gross & Co.

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