Brexit: Act now to prevent skills gaps in the workforce

Mini Setty on why employers need to act quickly to be compliant with Brexit-related barriers to recruitment from the EU.

Amid the ongoing efforts to control coronavirus and the massive economic impact that comes with it, recent news and government communications have served as a reminder of the consequences of Brexit, which are just around the corner.

The details of Britain’s departure from the EU have now been released in the Government’s ‘Statement of Changes’ which sets out comprehensively the rules that will apply. From 1 January 2021, EU citizens will lose their freedom to live, work and study in the UK and become subject to immigration control.

This means there is no longer a guarantee that an EU-based recruit will be able to take up employment in the UK and employers potentially seeking skilled workers from overseas will have to move fast.

To avoid skill gaps in the workforce, recruiters need to ensure they are ready for the imposing barriers to talent and consider how long it can sometimes take to find the right talent, particularly where there is an element of competition for certain skills.

This is especially true for the northern tech sector, which must work hard to attract people to live and work beyond London and the South East. Because of the upcoming law changes and the headlines currently surrounding it, many more businesses than usual will be submitting applications for sponsor licences, creating the potential for administrative backlogs.

The Government acknowledges that attracting the service of some highly skilled workers will be a vital building block for the UK’s economy

So, how exactly does the new immigration system affect businesses? The UK government is introducing the new points-based system from the start of 2021 and it applies to EU and non-EU citizens equally.

This approach to immigration is designed to attract individuals who will contribute to the UK’s economy and will include a route for skilled workers who have a job offer from an approved, licence holding sponsor employer.

To be eligible to seek employment in the UK, potential recruits will need to have a job offer at a required skill level loosely comparable to A Levels; will need to speak English; and will need to be taking employment that pays the threshold salary of £25,600 (or lower in certain circumstances).

Skilled EU and non-EU workers will need to be granted a skilled worker visa to enter the UK for work purposes. The number of skilled workers granted skilled worker visas will be uncapped and the Government acknowledges that attracting the service of some highly skilled workers will be a vital building block for the UK’s economy.

A route for a capped number of highly skilled workers is also being explored but will not be implemented until later.


Businesses that are considering hiring talent from overseas and have not yet registered for a sponsor licence should do so now to make the recruitment process more straightforward come January.

To become a sponsor, businesses must undergo checks to ensure they are genuine, are solvent and that the roles they are recruiting for meet the requirements for salary and skills. Sponsors must also act and behave in a way which is beneficial to the wider public good.

Senior personnel and key users of the sponsor licence service will have to undergo criminality and other security checks. Educational oversight from an appropriate body is required for educational institution, as well as meeting an annual Basic Compliance Assessment and undergoing additional scrutiny where they wish to teach children.

Costs associated with becoming a registered sponsor are a licence fee and an immigration health surcharge to cover the cost of an employee’s medical insurance during their time in the UK. From October, the health surcharge will cost £624.

In addition to the sponsorship route, the Government are introducing a Global Talent immigration route. The route is designed to encourage highly skilled individuals with specialist skills and attract recognised leaders and the leaders of tomorrow to the UK. 

This route will focus on such people across science, humanities, engineering, the arts (including film, fashion design and architecture) and digital technology and aims to enrich the UK’s knowledge, economy and society. Top scientists and researchers will benefit from a quicker endorsement process as part of a fast track STEM scheme.

Academic talent from overseas will be nurtured by special measures, including allowing international students who have graduated from a UK university to remain in the country and start a career. The Home Office plans to open key routes from Autumn 2020, allowing migrants to apply for ‘settled status’ ahead of the new immigration system taking effect.

The post-Brexit immigration system puts a lot at stake as businesses potentially develop skill gaps in their workforce and it is essential organisations prepare now to minimise the damage. They should understand how the points-based system works, plan recruitment budgets, check whether they need a sponsor licence, and apply as soon as possible if they do.


About the author

Mini Setty is an employment law specialist and partner at Langleys law firm.


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