Brexit FAQ: What talent managers need to know now

Written by Jurga McCluskey and Ian Robinson on 5 June 2020 in Features
Features

In amongst everything else happening in the world, the UK is preparing for Brexit as the end of the year approaches. Here, Jurga McCluskey and Ian Robinson offer advice for talent managers.

Although the UK officially separated from the European Union on 31 January, it wasn’t clear how Brexit would affect the movement of UK citizens, immigrants and visitors across the new international border.

The UK Government provided initial guidance on 19 February in the form of a statement on upcoming immigration policy changes. Further guidance was provided in March. Together one particular policy aspect is clear: freedom of movement is coming to an end.

The statement warns that 'employers will need to adjust.' Understandably, HR professionals who are responsible for managing talent during the transition are concerned about how to prepare for the new normal starting 1 January 2021.

We cannot overlook the debate around potential extension of this timeline, although for now the Government remains committed to the date. That’s when a new points system will go into effect that governs how migrants come into the UK 'to work, study, visit or join their family', according to the statement.

There will come a day when it’ll be safer for talent to leave their homes and business leaders need to be ready to receive them.

The aim is to treat EU and non-EU migrants equally and favour entry for skilled workers, leaders, students and innovators whilst reducing companies’ reliance on low-skilled labour from Europe.

While economic migration is currently at a standstill as the world fights to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, there will come a day when it’ll be safer for talent to leave their homes and business leaders need to be ready to receive them.

HR, training and development and any other department involved with talent management need to prepare now, however possible, for the coming change. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to assist with getting ready to implement the new rules.

What changes are in the new immigration bill? 

Companies that rely on migrant labour from the EU will be affected by the new immigration bill. As freedom of movement ends, the fees and costs related to work visas may make employers less likely to hire outside the UK unless they have no alternative because of skills shortages.

That’s built into the new bill, which intends to reduce the influx of low-skilled labour from Europe into the UK.

Some creativity on the part of talent managers will be required to find the workers their organisation needs, especially for roles that do not require special skills or a university degree. Taking early action, some companies are looking to groups that are typically more difficult to recruit, including ex-service members, parents returning to work and older workers.

In some instances, global companies are moving operations to other countries to accommodate new financial and talent management realities. Media coverage indicates this is happening now in some industries, including financial services.

 

Many expect to see labour shortages when the new rules are implemented on 1 January 2021. In the policy statement, the Government says it will closely watch labour market data to monitor pressure in major industries. Economic factors are changing due to a variety of factors (including the coronavirus pandemic). As industries experience challenges under the new rules, regulations could evolve.  

How can HR organisations prepare now? 

HR organisations can best prepare now by understanding the implications of the new immigration rules for their operations. The Government’s policy statement provides significant details on the objectives of the new system and its scope, including skills and salary thresholds, border crossing requirements, the visa process and more.

It will be important to collaborate with senior leaders to create a strategy. The Government says it will provide more detailed guidance this summer, which will give companies an opportunity to flesh out their HR policies in response. But now is a good time to assess where skills shortages may occur and determine how much time and money the company plans to invest in bringing in migrant labour.

Recruiting and hiring practices are also crucial considerations. It’s important to avoid across-the-board discrimination against candidates based solely on their country of origin, so the best strategy it to focus on skillsets only when evaluating prospective employees in an HR context. Then, when making hiring decisions, companies can factor immigration status into the equation.

One crucial step HR can take now is to work with employees who are foreign nationals to apply for work visas. It takes time to collect documents and obtain approvals, so it’s important to start now. It’s also advisable to reach out to affected employees to tell them what to expect and to offer residency assistance, if applicable. This is also a good time to update HR handbooks to reflect the new rules.

What’s the best way to stay up to date on new information?

It’s critical to stay informed during the transition period. The Government’s 'what you need to know' page is a helpful resource, providing links to basic information as well as updates and an opt-in link to receive email alerts for when new information is released.

Another great resource is talent mobility trade associations and vendors, which can provide data on skills shortages. Many immigration providers also provide opt-in alerts to information via email when immigration rules change. 

It’s a challenging situation, and because of the time that elapsed between the first Brexit vote and the coming immigration rules changes, many global companies took that time to evaluate their employees’ immigration status and determine where staff are located.

Unfortunately, not all took advantage of the time, but that type of basic employee and operational information is crucial for talent mobility strategies now. In fact, it will become even more vital when the immigration law takes effect next year.

Even well-prepared companies may find themselves scrambling to ensure talent continuity when the Government releases additional guidance this summer. Additional staff may be needed to manage documentation and planning. However right now, the best strategy is to keep up with current guidance and make advance preparations. There’s no time to lose.  

 

About the authors

Jurga McCluskey is a partner and head of immigration at Deloitte, and chair of the immigration committee at Worldwide ERC. Ian Robinson is a partner at Fragomen LLP, a member of Worldwide ERC  

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