Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement on October 1, 2018 that Britain will not continue to give EU nationals preferential immigration treatment after Brexit heralded the future of immigration between the EU and Britain. Britain will decide what the immigration requirements are for EU nationals. Speculation on whether Britain will adopt “US-style” visas for travel and work has been considered, and May herself already indicated that waivers of visa requirements may continue on a reciprocal basis with countries (or regions) with which Britain agrees to these requirements.

The principal import of the Prime Minister’s announcement is that after 2020, EU nationals will need to apply for formal admission requirements in advance of moving to Britain, and may also face travel visa or pre-registration requirements. What these requirements will ultimately translate to will depend on continued negotiations and the input of key business sectors  and stakeholders such as the Migration Advisory Committee.  

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, already indicated that the British government would consider dropping the cap on high-skilled visas altogether, to adjust to the demand for entry by EU nationals currently exempt from the cap, particularly in the Tier 2 category applicable to intra-company movement of employees. May also indicated that the government would be looking closely at skills gap areas and seasonal agricultural needs, as the British government will be focused on meeting the country’s ongoing economic needs.

In the interim, the UK government has confirmed its commitment that all of the nearly 3 million EU immigrants currently living in Britain can remain even if the UK leaves the EU bloc with no agreement in place. That commitment is currently structured in a framework outlined in the UK’s Statement of Changes to immigration published in July 2018, which followed from the European Commission’s March 2018 draft agreement governing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. It includes citizens right protections for EU nationals who are resident in Britain as late as December 31, 2020, provided they register for Indefinite Leave to Remain (settled status) or Leave to Remain (pre-settled status) by June 2021.

Employers addressing work force needs should be closely evaluating their current EU pool in Britain and the likely fluidity of travel and work assignments in the next 18 months. Facilitation of the EU Settlement Scheme ILR and LTR applications should also be made, to ensure key personnel are protected in the near term. As an additional matter, education of employers regarding derivative family member rights, for those eligible for settled and pre-settled status, will be highly useful to future planning.

Mayer Brown will be hosting a Brexit Roundtable in London on November 7, 2018 in London, addressing the prioritized actions employers should be taking to identify who in their work corps may be affected, what guidelines recruiters should undertake considering the changing dynamics of the negotiations, and focusing on immediate compliance actions that the Home Office is likely to instigate as March 2019 approaches.