From food to football – how will immigration changes following Brexit impact UK businesses?

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The UK has now left the EU – where does this leave employers when seeking to recruit candidates from overseas?

Find out more at our immigration seminar on 12 March 2020.

While the UK is no longer officially a member of the EU, we are now in a transition period – which preserves freedom of movement until 31 December 2020 (or a later date, if the transition period is extended – although the government has stated that no request for an extension will be made).

In the short term, the advice remains as before: EEA nationals who are in the UK and those who arrive prior to the end of the transition period must apply for either settled status or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme in order to preserve their longer-term rights to live and work in the UK.  For employers, this means that if there are EEA nationals you want to hire who are not already in the UK, you should ensure that they arrive in the UK before 31 December 2020.

In the medium-to-long term, there is still no clarity as to what the UK’s new immigration system will be from 1 January 2021, by which point the Prime Minister has pledged to introduce an “Australian-style points-based-system”.  The Migration Advisory Committee recently rejected a full shift to an Australian-style system, with its Chairman dismissing the pledge as a “soundbite”.  As a result, employers face continued uncertainty about how they can hire EEA nationals from 1 January 2021.  What we do know is that the government has stated that any new system will apply equally to EEA and non-EEA nationals, and will be aimed at skilled workers only.  This means that UK businesses will no longer be able to recruit workers from the EEA without restriction – rather, the recruitment of EEA nationals is likely to be subject to the sponsorship regime that currently applies to non-EEA nationals (albeit perhaps in a modified form).

Regardless of exactly what the new system will look like, it is guaranteed to cost your business more to hire EEA nationals (financially, but also in terms of administration and management time).  As a result, every sector faces new challenges.  The manufacturing and food and drink industries, in particular, have historically relied heavily on EEA nationals to staff production lines.  While businesses may be able to fill those gaps with a combination of UK employees and investment in automation and technology, the development of such technology poses its own issues.  Employers will need to recruit and retain individuals with specialist skills to develop and maintain advanced technology – a difficult task given that the food manufacturing industry has already pinpointed finding skilled labour as a key challenge.

It’s not just the manufacturing sector that the changes will have a significant impact on.  Little mention has been made in the press of the likely effect on UK sport and, in particular, football.  Under current rules, only players and coaches established at the highest level internationally can obtain an endorsement which will enable them to be sponsored to play or coach in the UK.  As a result, unless there are significant changes to the existing requirements, the UK’s sporting sector will lose out on engaging many talented non-UK footballers and sportspeople, who have not yet reached international level or the top flight of their professions.

For every UK business, one thing is certain, there will be a much smaller labour pool to recruit from in the future.  Businesses should therefore be planning and preparing:  Do you need to consider applying for a sponsor licence?  How will you attract and retain overseas staff?  Do you need to re-train staff and consider offering apprenticeships to try and alleviate skills gaps?

We will be exploring these issues in more detail at our immigration seminar on 12 March 2020.  If you would like to attend or want further details, please email

Should you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article with our Business Immigration Team, please contact or