Employers should expect more restrictions and higher costs
There has been much speculation about what Brexit will mean for workers from EU member states and their rights to work in the UK, but far less commentary on the estimated 1.22 million UK nationals working in the rest of the EU. Yet multinational businesses need to understand what Brexit is likely to mean for UK staff working on secondments or more permanent working arrangements in the EU – and start planning ahead.
At present, membership of the EU gives UK nationals freedom of movement – the right to live, work and study in other member states. This has been a significant benefit for international businesses operating within Europe as it has enabled them to transfer employees who are UK (or EU) nationals to countries in the rest of the EU with minimal planning, no work permits, no visa costs and considerable flexibility, making life easy for HR departments planning work assignments or secondments throughout the EU. Non-EU nationals, by contrast, need to comply with immigration rules specific to each jurisdiction, which usually involves significant planning, paperwork, costs and restrictions.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said the government wants to reduce net migration. She has also indicated that freedom of movement will not apply in its current form once the UK has left the EU but has not revealed what she would like to see in its place, apart from saying that a points-based immigration system would not be appropriate. If EU workers no longer have freedom of movement to live and work in the UK, it is reasonable to assume that the EU will impose similar restrictions on UK workers in Europe.
So what immigration hurdles are employers likely to face in the future when sending staff overseas to Europe?
It seems probable that any new immigration system for EU workers will be more restrictive and burdensome in terms of administration than the current arrangements. The exact nature of the new system will depend on what terms are eventually agreed in relation to the UK’s departure from the EU.
One possibility is that some sort of restrictive ‘freedom of movement’ principle could apply. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has suggested the government may try to agree a work permit system that only allows highly skilled EU workers with a job offer to work in the UK. If such a system is adopted, the EU may insist on similar arrangements for UK nationals wishing to work in member states, as it is likely that reciprocity will be key to any Brexit negotiations.
While these negotiations have yet to begin, it is possible they could result in a single set of rules governing the rights of UK nationals to live and work in the EU. However, it is also possible, if no such agreement is reached, that each country could impose its own restrictions on the UK. Employers, therefore, need to consider the possibility of having to contend with numerous different immigration systems – a headache for those who send staff all over the EU.
Employers are also likely to be concerned about the position of UK nationals already working in other EU countries. Again, what happens is likely to depend on what arrangements are agreed for EU workers in the UK. While no guarantees have been offered to EU nationals already working here, the government has said it expects their legal status to be “properly protected”. What that means exactly is unclear, but it seems likely a cut-off date will be imposed at some stage and that EU workers who are in the UK at that point will have certain protections. The government has indicated it does not want to guarantee these rights without negotiating reciprocal arrangements, so it will probably seek to protect the rights of UK nationals already working in the EU to continue to live and work there.
What is clear is that it is likely to be some time before these matters are resolved. While waiting for greater certainty, employers would do well to plan for a range of possible outcomes.
Ross Hutchison and Elaine McIlroy are part of the employment, pensions and immigration team at Weightmans LLP
Story via – http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/11/10/why-staff-transfers-to-the-eu-are-likely-to-get-harder-post-brexit.aspx