Alan Price, CEO, Bright HR, considers how employers can prepare for any kind of Brexit outcome 

As a UK business with operations across the country and staff embedded in the EU, our senior leadership recognised early on, our operations would be significantly affected by the transition on 31st December this year. New immigration policies which will come into force on New Year’s Day will not only affect our employees, but our clients’ teams. HR Directors are now consulting with us for best practice guidance, but more broadly, not enough SME businesses are fully prepared for change.

Operating an SME business which is driven by HR expertise, we are able to recognise the issues that will be of more concern to businesses like ours. We rely on recruiting and retaining talent. We are diverse with a mix of employees from the UK and the EU. Our preparedness measures have been around visa sponsorship, the new points-based immigration regulations and the deadline for EU citizens’ settlement applications.

HR compliance changes are far-reaching and need to be actioned before the New Year

For our own workforce, we’ve prepared for the end of the transition period by updating our immigration policies to include and facilitate working under new legislation, both in the recruitment stage and when conducting right to work checks. It is always important to communicate significant change to safeguard business continuity. One of the areas we identified as essential were the rules around the EU Settlement Scheme.

Those people impacted in our teams needed to know what the changes meant in straightforward terms; what was required for them to apply to continue working in the UK. Through our own experience at Bright HR, we have been able to establish a practical knowledge hub where we can draw from real best practice scenarios to support customers whose experiences reflect our own.

Knowledge transfer is fundamental in getting compliance right. Issues are complex especially for organisations which are smaller but have longer-term goals to make a business impact in the EU. Employee preparedness is only as effective as the direction of senior leadership in sharing what the changes will mean for their organisation.

Understanding the new regulations for travel and the new points-based immigration process is essential for HR Directors

We stress to our customers that current rules for moving between the EU and the UK for work will change from 1st January; regardless of the outcome of negotiations and any further trade deals that may be agreed in the interim. EU nationals’ applications will be assessed the same as any other individual from overseas coming to live, work or study in the UK. Knowing what factors are involved in assessments are crucial for applications to be received and processed successfully.

Businesses will be recruiting talent differently. Many candidates are likely to apply to live and work in the UK via a points-based system. Individuals must achieve a minimum of 70 points to be allowed entry. Points are assessed on occupation, specific skills, and level of fluency in English language.
In the Human Resources space, directors and managers must be ready to roll out updated processes and procedures. They should also be prepared to answer fundamental questions around the transition as raised by employees.

Obtaining and sharing knowledge is more than ticking a few boxes; it is understanding Government policy and legislation. The expectation is for businesses to recruit from the domestic market to fill vacancies in the first instance. Government webinars have been produced to offer actionable guidance for businesses and to offer more clarity around content which has been published to advise on new procedures from trade to recruitment.

Licenced visa sponsorship

Importantly, businesses will need to be a Home Office licensed sponsor for overseas candidates. Licence applications are already open, so we’re advising that employers get on and apply now. Leaving the process until after the transition may significantly impact recruitment and resourcing in the coming months.
EU nationals already resident in the UK can remain in the country indefinitely, provided they have applied for ‘settled or pre-settled status’. Provision to support EU nationals wishing to settle has been in place since March 2019 and EU individuals living in the UK before 31 December 2020 have until 30 June 2021 to apply.
Once the June deadline has passed, EU nationals who have not applied will be working in the UK illegally.

Omitting completing an application and submitting on time is avoidable. Although applying is an individual choice and responsibility, some employees may find this daunting and put off doing the necessary paperwork. We recommend employers take a supportive role in suggesting that applying sooner rather than later will speed the process. Also offering practical advice to employees who may find the process confusing will allow them to feel more confident in managing their own applications for settlement.

As a transition measure, employers can continue to accept passports and national identity cards of EU Citizens as evidence of their right to work, up until 30 June 2021. Some EU citizens may also choose to evidence their right to work using digital status obtained by the Home Office.

SMEs may be falling behind in HR preparedness and shouldn’t delay further

Many of our SME clients are concerned about the changes in hiring requirements. The points-based system is likely to raise questions as it’s something that will be new to smaller businesses. Compliance is an area where no business wants to come up short. More organisations need to progress with the essentials required to maintain continuity.

Given the impact of coronavirus on business operations, the transition will affect different businesses in different ways – whether you rely on the skills of EU nationals or import and export products to the EU.

UK business is entering a new phase – which in some ways may become more exploratory as experiences differ between markets. Change is inevitable and with it, many questions will be voiced by employees at all levels of business. Preparedness will mitigate some of the effects and wide-reaching changes. Our recommendation to HR Directors is to review the check, change and go process for the transition to ensure a productive start to business in the New Year.

Alan Price is CEO of BrightHR, the most popular HR software and support service for SMEs in the UK.

At BrightHR, our goal is to make it easy for small businesses to manage their people. We do this by providing innovative HR and health and safety software, giving employers all the tools and support they need to manage and grow their business. We’re the UK’s biggest digital HR software platform, with 500,000+ users across the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.