Businesses across the North West are being warned to take action now to Brexit-proof their workforces ahead of upcoming changes to recruiting EU workers.

The changes, which will come into force on 1 January 2021, are expected to significantly impact small to medium sized companies due to the increased level of ‘red tape’, according to Alex Wright, specialist immigration lawyer at Broudie Jackson Canter.

EU workers already in the UK, or those who arrive before the end of the year, will have the right to work here; however, the end of free movement will mean those arriving from January onwards will be treated in the same way as non-EU workers and employers will need a Sponsor License in order to offer them a role.

Under current legislation, licences are usually only granted for ‘highly skilled’ roles – equivalent to degree-level – but the changes will mean employers can recruit lower skilled workers, with sponsorship being possible for those educated to the equivalent of A level.

However, post-Brexit revisions could result in employers being unable to bring on board new staff if applications are not completed in time, Alex says.

And, according to latest figures from the Home Office, just 172 businesses in Liverpool and 659 businesses in Manchester already hold Sponsor Licences and are ready for their future employment needs.

Alex said: “The changes we are seeing coming into force next year will mean a huge shift in process for many businesses across the region, many of which have never had to apply for Sponsor Licences before. It’s important to remember that, while some sectors like hospitality and agriculture will be greatly affected, it is certainly not exclusive to specific industries and it’s likely to impact almost every discipline in some way.

“Many businesses are understandably caught up in dealing with the challenges around the Covid-19 pandemic and, while that’s of course important, it’s essential they take a step back and think about what’s required of them post-Brexit.

“Businesses should take action now and consider their staffing needs, taking into account when they are likely to need EU workers and what the process for recruiting those people will now be.

“Looking at the number of applications across the North West, it’s clear that local businesses need to take stock of the upcoming changes – it can be a complex process and often requires advice and guidance from experts to ensure everything is being adhered to correctly.

“To apply for a licence, a business will need to provide evidence on matters relating to their HR regulations and demonstrate that they are a responsible employer. Once a licence is in place, employers need to remember to notify the Home Office of any changes to salary, type of role or location of work for their international workers, otherwise they could face a hefty penalty fine.”

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