Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past 2 years (which to be fair would have been more fun) you’ll know that the UK is due to leave the European Union on the 29th of March 2019. Yes, good ol’ Brexit has become everyone’s new favourite B word, everyone's favourite news story and everyone’s favourite topic of conversation at family dinners. Wherever on the political spectrum you lay and whether or not you think there will be another referendum; or that some miracle could happen that would save the UK from the unending embarrassment we have found ourselves in, the fact remains that we are due to leave the EU in March this year. And it doesn’t change the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of EU citizens currently employed by British companies that will end up being illegal workers if they do not apply for settled status by the deadline. You as the employer, have an obligation to prepare them for this and make sure that your house is in order.
We love our EU nationals, no matter what was voted, and we want them to stay. So what happens? European nationals and their family members currently in the UK have the option to apply under the current system for a permanent residence document. This involves providing evidence that the EU national has spent a continuous period of 5 years in the UK. This can be proved by providing P60s for each year of employment so this is where your payroll department can help.
As Theresa May’s deal has been taken out back with the rest of the rubbish, the new EU settlement scheme will now come into effect bang on the 29th of March 2019 with no transition period. As mentioned, the scheme allows those who have been residing in the UK for 5 years to apply for “settled status” but also those who do not yet have 5 years continuous residence to apply for “pre-settled” status. In the event of a no-deal (which is looking ever more likely much to the sheer delight of Boris Johnson) the deadline for applications will be the 31st of December 2020.
Now, we are people and therefore we are the WORST so what is inevitably going to happen? People are going to forget to apply for the required settled and pre-settled status by the deadline! What will happen then? If you believe the papers it will be chaos! We can only speculate. But what we do know is that, as an employer, if there are any EU nationals that have not applied that are in your employment, you are now employing people who are in the UK unlawfully and you are breaking the law.
What can you do to prevent this? What you can do is offer practical support and resources to your EU employees. You can do this by hosting information workshops, providing them with documentation to support their application in advance, and by doing a company wide audit of which of your employees will be affected. You can also schedule catch-ups to see where they are and what support they need. Amazingly, the government have decided to scrap the £65 application fee (never thought I’d see the day they would say no to a bit of cash) so that’s one less moral dilemma to worry about.
Speak to your HR department, speak to your payroll department, speak to your employees. You can also download the EU settlement employee toolkit from the government website that helps equip employers with the right tools and information to support EU citizens and their families to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.