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Brexit implications on immigration

There are approximately 2.2 million European Economic Area (EEA) nationals resident in the UK. The freedom of movement allows EEA nationals to move freely across the EU member borders as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein without the need for work permits.

With immigration being a major focus in the referendum campaign, EU nationals currently employed in the UK will understandably have concerns about their future status. Employers may also be concerned about the impact on the skills pool available and may be keen to retain their EU employees.

Outlook

If employers are receiving queries from concerned employees the most important point to make clear is that there will be no immediate change. First of all, the UK needs to give notice of its intention to leave the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and the UK will be remaining part of the EU for at least another 2 years after the intention to leave is served. The freedom of movement and the rights to live and work will remain during the period of negotiating an exit and up to the point that the UK formally leaves the EU.

In any event, although the future of immigration after the exit is as yet unclear, it is highly likely that any EEA nationals already living and working in the UK will have their rights protected by transitional arrangements so not to be prejudiced by any future changes to the law. For example, EEA nationals living in the UK prior to its exit from the EU will still be able to apply for permanent residence subject to the normal eligibility requirements. This option may allay some workers’ fears and could be suggested.

There has been talk of a points based system and it may be that in the future employers will have to sponsor EU nationals before they can work in the UK – as is the system with non EU nationals (click here for an update on immigration from outside of the EU). On the other hand, if the UK is to negotiate a deal with the EU for access to the single market, it is probable that it will still have to observe at least some degree of the free movement of workers as this is a requirement for both Norway and Switzerland (who are not part of the EU).

Advice

At this point, there are no guarantees on what an exit from the EU will entail. Although employers may not be able to give assurances about the future it is advisable that they take the time to listen to concerns of employees and, if appropriate, explain that at this point it is ‘business as usual’.

To read about other possible implications the Brexit will have on employment law please click here.

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