Last week, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson gave the first clear picture of the Leave campaigns strategy on immigration following a Brexit.
If Britain leaves the European Union then, “the automatic right of all EU citizens to come and live and work in the UK will end”.
They followed on by adding that in the event of a Brexit, they would introduce a, “genuine Australian-style points-based immigration system” before the next general election.
Naturally, this has workers and employers worried. Although, it must be pointed out, if Gove and Johnson think they can end the free movement of EU citizens in Britain on 24th June 2016, if the Leave camp wins, then they are off in cloud cuckoo land.
Negotiations are likely to take months, if not years. Free movement is a cornerstone EU principle, and one that both France and Germany, Europe’s powerhouses, view as non-negotiable. Swiss citizens voted in a 2014 referendum to have the right to limit EU migration into the country – and two years later, negotiations are in deadlock, with Brussels unable to see how limiting free movement can be done without breaching the bi-lateral agreements Switzerland has with the EU.
We must also remember that any changes to the rights of EU citizens entering the UK made by the British Government are likely to be met in equal measure by other European States, something that makes the 1.2 million British Citizens who reside in them very nervous.
Currently, British employers can freely recruit workers from any of the 28 EU countries. EU nationals do not require visas and can stay in the country as long as they are exercising their Treaty rights, i.e. they are in employment.
To hire an employee from outside the EU, an employer must have a sponsorship licence before they can recruit an applicant on a Tier 2 (General) Visa. The employer will be responsible for maintaining compliance with the responsibilities of the sponsorship licence. Responsibilities include:
Even if you obtain a sponsorship licence, you can only employ non-EU citizens for certain positions. If the job you have available is on the Shortage Occupation List, then you can automatically recruit a non-EU national to fill it.
If the position you wish to fill is not on the Shortage Occupation List, then you must perform a, ‘Resident Labour Market Test’ and advertise the position. You must provide evidence that you were unable to find a suitable person in the UK before you apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship.
In addition, a non-EU employee who wishes to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after his or her Tier 2 Visa expires will have to earn a minimum of £35,000 per annum. Employers need to take this into account when strategising for their workforce needs and pay scales. If time and money are going to be invested into training a non-EU employee, it would not make sense to lose them after five years, simply because they are not being paid enough.
An Australian style points-based system could make it difficult for employers to recruit the staff they need, especially those who require low-skilled workers in sectors such as manufacturing, hospitality, construction and seasonal agriculture. Not only would the employer have to qualify for a sponsorship licence, but if a good knowledge of English and certain academic qualifications are demanded under a new system, many potential EU applicants will fail to accrue enough points to gain entry into the country.
And let us not forget, the higher skills equal higher wages – great for employees, but what about SMEs already struggling with staffing costs?
The impact of a possible Brexit on the UK labour market could be severe. However, the Government would be required to jump through some enormous diplomatic hoops to convince Brussels that free trade without free movement is possible within the EU without compromising everything the institution stands for.
Based in Birmingham and London, UK Migration Lawyers is one of Britain’s premiere immigration law firms. If you have any concerns or questions about how the EU Referendum could affect your ability to recruit foreign-born workers, please phone our office on 0121 777 7715.