Employers need to take steps to safeguard their EU workers urgently, or face worsening manpower shortages, experts warn.
The deadline for EU citizens living and working in the UK to apply for settled status here is June 30, a landmark which a new report describes as a ‘timebomb’ and ‘cliff-edge’ after which people and businesses will face ‘imminent problems, pitfalls and risks’.
Any EU citizen who has not applied to the EU Settlement Scheme by June 30 will effectively be classed as an illegal immigrant and could face removal from the UK. Organisations employing EU citizens without settled status, or without claims being processed, could also face severe penalties for using illegal labour, despite having made statutory right to work checks in line with Home Office rules.
Companies already struggling with personnel shortages are advised to make sure employees from the EU, EEA and Switzerland register under the EU Settlement Scheme or face further problems.
Visa and immigration expert, Yash Dubal, Director of A Y & J Solicitors, is advising employers who employ EU citizens to familiarise themselves with the new regulatory requirements urgently.
He said: “With many businesses already experiencing acute staffing shortages due to the pandemic, it is important for employers to encourage any staff who wish to continue working in the UK and have not applied to the EU Settlement Scheme to do so.”
Mr Dubal also urges employers who rely on migrant workers, or plan to use them in future, to register to become an official Home Office sponsor.
“Businesses and organisations in the UK must be registered sponsor licence holders to employ migrants under the skilled worker route. To qualify for a licence, they must fulfil certain duties such as the proven ability to gather and maintain accurate records for migrant employees. Once registered with the Home Office, employers can then migrant skilled workers,” he said.
Since the settlement scheme launched in March 2019, more than 5.4m applications have been received, more than was expected. However, a new report warns that many more eligible applicants have yet to apply. Titled The status of EU nationals: Emergency measures needed, by the EU Rights and Brexit Hub, a legal research facility at York University, it predicts significant numbers of people will miss the deadline.
It states: “It is now clear that there will be a significant minority of EEA nationals who fail to register by the deadline, and who will thus be ‘left behind’. If they do not qualify as having a good reason for missing the deadline, they automatically and irreversibly lose their right to reside.”
These people will then be exposed to the UK’s ‘hostile’ immigration environment, ‘and potentially to removal’, with complete loss of rights, the report warns.
Report co-author, Prof Charlotte O’Brien writes: “Imagine if you did not renew your passport before it expired, and so lost all right to ever have that passport again. Except instead of just losing your right to travel abroad, you lost your right to stay in your home, with your family and friends.
“Those who miss the deadline will become, overnight, unauthorised/illegal migrants.”
Recent studies from Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and The Social Market Foundation show a considerable number of EEA nationals remain unaware of the settlement scheme. The York University report calls for a more substantive scheme, keeping a meaningful deadline, but avoiding irreversible losses of rights.
Prof O’Brien points out that the UK’s deadline is harsher than the majority of those set for UK citizens residing in other European nations.
She writes: “Thirteen EU Member States including Germany have decided that UK nationals who were resident before 31 December 2020 do not need to apply for a new status, and so have not set any deadline. Of the remainder, only six have set a deadline as early as 30 June 2021, the earliest the Withdrawal Agreement permits. Two have gone for 30 September 2021, and six for 31 December 2021.”