Legal opinion

Brexit and UK immigration and employment law

By Charlotte Smith

- Last updated on GMT

Smith: 'There are significant costs involved in sponsoring employees and complex rules'
Smith: 'There are significant costs involved in sponsoring employees and complex rules'

Related tags Regulation Training & recruitment

After the UK Immigration Act received Royal Assent, what are the upcoming changes to the UK’s immigration system and employment laws?

As a major employer of EU nationals, the food and drink manufacturing industry will face significant challenges when free movement ends on 31 December 2020 and the new skills-based immigration comes into effect.

There will be no route for manufacturers to recruit factory workers on low pay from outside of the settled workforce – which could leave employers who rely heavily on EU staff to operate production lines facing a shortage of labour.  The government has been clear that employers will need to adjust – advocating investment in technology and automation instead. 

Businesses will have the ability to recruit from outside of the settled workforce if they become a registered sponsor, but they will only be able to recruit for roles which are skilled to a certain level and meet minimum salary requirements.

Managerial roles, food technologists, butchers

Eligible roles will include managerial roles, food technologists and butchers. However, packers, processors and production operatives will not meet the required skill level.

There are also significant costs involved in sponsoring employees and complex rules – further details can be found in this webinar recording​. 

EU nationals arriving in the UK before 31 December 2020 will still be eligible to apply for pre-settled status under the settlement scheme and there is a reciprocal arrangement for UK nationals who are in the EU. Businesses who wish to employ staff in the EU from 1 January 2021 will then be subject to the immigration requirements and laws of the particular country in which they operate.

Current legislation retained

The Government has not yet made any announcements regarding proposed changes to employment laws and therefore current employment legislation (much of which we derive from the EU) looks likely to be retained, at least for now.

The UK will have the ability to make its own laws going forward and could therefore decide not to align itself with EU regulations. However, the message to date has been that there is no plan to lessen workers' rights. 

In light of the forthcoming changes, key steps to prepare your business for Brexit should involve:

  • auditing your workforce to identify potential skills gaps or labour shortages;
  • applying for a sponsor licence (and, if you already have one, becoming familiar with the new rules);
  • investing in apprenticeships and training;
  • considering ways to incentivise and retain existing employees;
  • and investing in technology and automating processes. 

Charlotte Smith is employment lawyer at Walker Morris LLP

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1 comment

Production operative

Posted by Stacey,

I work in factory s and warehouses for years and due to the high volume of of polish and Romanian and Russian worker there has been a lot of bullying and specking in there own language that makes a lot of Welsh and English worker puss aside and afraid to speck out in order to keep there jobs and being told by manager a lot of bullying do happen due to language barriers and same due to race to and most of the time English and Wales people leave there job and end up out of work and can’t find work due to being afraid of going into factory’s and warehouses it not wright being told I get a job being there for a year then giving it to a polish worker who only been there a few month then being told I am English I be ok I find work and I can come back later on if I want as they lost my paperwork and take me on if I welling to come back we’ll anything be done about this

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