Brexit from the perspective of the migrant or national


With only around two months until the planned date of Brexit, and in light of the recent rejection of the EU Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons, contemplating a move to the UK for work as a foreign professional might seem daunting.

In part, this is because so much remains unresolved: Will there be a deal? Might negotiations be extended? Could Brexit be stopped? How will any of this affect me? And while a withdrawal from the EU will certainly impact migrants seeking employment in the UK, how depends on a number of factors.

To help navigate this complex and shifting landscape, it is useful to look at the UK’s current immigration system, how that system could change, as well as some of the issues and hurdles overseas workers and domestic employers could encounter in the face of various Brexit scenarios.

UK immigration and Brexit

Presently, the UK operates two parallel immigration systems: One for the citizens of EU member states, and the other for non-EU nationals.  EU citizens enjoy the right of free movement, which entitles them to public benefits and permits individuals to work, study or reside in the UK with few restrictions or requirements.  By contrast, non-EU nationals looking to come to the UK for more than just a short-term visit must apply for immigration permission under the much more robust UK Immigration Rules.

Under the terms of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, an ‘Implementation Period’ from the date of Brexit on 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020 is planned to help ease transition pains.

Impact on EU nationals

During the proposed 21-month Implementation Period, EU nationals will be able to live and work in the UK virtually without restriction, as they do now under the rules of free movement. Those who arrive by then and would like to remain beyond the 31 December 2020 ‘cutoff date’ (the end of the Implementation Period), including for work, will need to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, which will be open to all applicants by 30 March 2019. For the purposes of this scheme, individuals will fall into one of three categories:

  • Settled status: EU nationals and their family members who arrived before the cutoff date and have lawfully lived in the UK for a continuous five-year period. Those with settled status will be allowed to remain and work in the UK.
  • Pre-settled status: EU nationals and their family members who arrive prior to the cutoff date, but who have not yet lived in the UK for a continuous five-year period. These individuals will be permitted to remain and work for the period of time necessary to establish a lawful continuous five-year period, at which point they will qualify to apply for settled status.
  • No status: EU nationals and their family members who arrive after the cutoff date will be required to apply for permission to enter or remain under the new immigration rules and laws in place at that time.

If the UK fails to negotiate a deal, the deadline to apply for status will be moved forward from 30 June 2021 to 31 December 2020.

Impact on non-EU nationals

As noted, professionals from outside the EU do not enjoy the right of free movement and currently must apply for a visa in order to work in the UK.  While non-EU workers are not covered under the EU Settlement Scheme, they will be subject to the new Immigration Rules that are tentatively set to take force in January 2021.  In some instances these rules may actually make it a little bit easier to obtain work permission in the UK.

UK professionals in the EU

Under the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the same implementation period would apply to UK professionals looking to work in the EU, thus enabling them to enter and remain in member states under the rules of free movement until 31 December 2020. Thereafter, UK nationals will be able to apply for residence status subject to the application process of each country.

Changes in the workplace

For UK businesses, changes under Brexit could be significant, particularly for those who rely on talent from the EU labour pool.  After the Implementation Period, assuming there is one, employers who wish to hire EU member state nationals will be faced with higher recruitment costs, greater minimum requirements, and most likely a longer hiring process.  For companies that demand flexibility and agility in their employment practices, this could have a significant impact and require meaningful hiring reforms.

Planning, patience, & professional help

If you are considering a move to the UK for work, it is understandable to have concerns about how Brexit might affect your situation. And while the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will likely effect a more significant change for EU citizens (who will lose the freedom of movement) than non-EU nationals, neither group should find obtaining the required permission in the future insurmountable.  Indeed, with some planning, patience, and advice from a legal professional, moving to the UK for work should be an achievable goal for many foreign professionals.

About the author

Laura is the Managing Partner of Laura Devine Immigration Law, a prestigious boutique immigration firm with offices in London and New York providing UK and US immigration advice which has been described as a “transatlantic powerhouse”. Laura is recognised as a Who’s Who Legal thought leader and its highest-rated UK immigration lawyer in 2017 standing out as “the best”. Laura and her firm of 60 staff are rated by all legal directories in the top tier of immigration firms as are the other partners of the firm. Laura is an English solicitor and a US attorney and before launching her own law firm she established the immigration practices at Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) and Eversheds (now Eversheds Sutherland).

The firm is commended in The Times Best Law Firms 2019 for immigration. Laura is the UK representative of the International Bar Association Immigration Committee. She was a Council member of the Law Society for eight years and sat on the Law Society Immigration Committee for 15 years. She is the immigration correspondent for the Law Society Gazette and editor of Thomson Reuters’ first book on global immigration entitled ‘Immigration Law: Jurisdictional Comparisons’ now in its second edition. Laura speaks internationally on immigration, law firm management and women in business. She is seen as a pioneer on GSR in law firms.

As Managing Partner Laura, oversees all staff and client matters for both the UK and US teams. She advises on UK and US immigration with a client base spanning all sectors from finance to fashion and corporates to individuals.

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