For businesses that operate in the UK, the looming British exit from the European Union (“Brexit”) presents several challenges for managing employees who are EU nationals. Perhaps most significantly, EU nationals will need additional, visa-like documentation to work in the UK after Brexit.
While the final details and timelines are still being worked out, there are a few steps employers can (and should) take now to ensure that they and their employees have as smooth a transition as possible. Here are four items to put on your to-do list, whether your UK offices have one employee who’s an EU national or hundreds.
1. Familiarize yourself with important dates and deadlines
As of now, the UK government has announced that Brexit will officially start in March 2019, but it hopes to have its new permanent residency application system up by later this year. Other deadlines we know so far include these:
- Late 2018: UK government aims to have new online system for applying for permanent residency in the UK as an EU national. The good news is that the new system is expected to be less cumbersome than the current one.
- March 2019 – December 2020: “Transition period” during which EU nationals can update their paperwork to live and work in the UK. As of now, indications from the UK government suggest that updating paperwork will be free of charge during this time and a simple, intelligent online application that may even be available via an app. During this period, employers can hire EU nationals based only on their ID card for their Right to Work
- January 2021 – June 2021: “Grace period” during which EU nationals who have not yet updated their documents can do so without penalty. Starting January 1 of 2021, however, EU nationals will have to have secondary documentation (akin to a visa) to work in the UK.
2. Conduct an audit of your UK employees
If you’re not precisely sure how many EU nationals are working at your UK offices, now is the time to find out. Whether you create a survey for everyone to fill out or go desk-to-desk to gather information, keep in mind you need to know more than how many people will be affected by Brexit.
You’ll also want to determine:
- Current residency status and documentation needs.
- Whether employees have family members whose documentation needs may change after Brexit.
- Whether your employees are planning on returning to the EU after Brexit (and therefore, whether you’ll need to replace them).
One of the most effective retention strategies is to show your employees that you’re invested in their wellbeing and will go the extra mile to keep them happily employed. Not sure how to do that? Read on.
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3. Host “Brexit clinics” for employees
The goal of these sessions (which can be webinars, lunch-and-learns, presentations, or whatever else works for your company) is to offer in-depth guidance on specific tasks EU national employees will have to complete because of Brexit. For example, you may offer a session on updating permanent resident status that covers the step-by-step process and highlights common mistakes to avoid. This shows employees that you’re there to support them personally and professionally and empowers them to take necessary steps to stay in the country an at their job.
Don’t expect that only EU national employees will attend these sessions, either. Nearly everyone in the UK will be directly impacted by Brexit, and we’ve seen sessions include UK nationals with European spouses, managers who oversee EU national employees, and employees looking to support their coworkers.
4. Stay current on Brexit news
As I mentioned earlier, not all deadlines for Brexit have been permanently settled yet. To ensure you’re acting based on the latest information available, follow updates as they happen.
As you learn the latest information, find ways to share it with your employees (e.g., through a Brexit clinic). The transition will be cumbersome for everyone affected, but by proactively supporting your employees, you can minimize any negative impact on your company and maximize your odds of keeping your current team on board after Brexit.