How should SBMs manage EU citizen staff in light of Brexit?

Over a year on Brexit is still shrouded in uncertainty as negotiations finally get underway. What can school business managers do to support their EEA staff and ensure that they have a robust workforce going forward? Gemma Goodhead, a specialist UK immigration lawyer and head of immigration at SA Law, shares her expert insights

Since Brexit was announced in 2016 the future rights of European Economic Area (EEA) citizens living in the UK has been a key topic for many. In June 2017 Theresa May proposed a ‘fair and serious’ offer for EEA citizens who reside in the UK before a specified date (yet to be specified but expected to be between March 29, 2017 and Brexit).

The proposed ‘settled status’

Mrs May has proposed that EEA citizens who reside in the UK before the specified date will be able to apply to the Home Office for ‘settled status’ on reaching five years continuous residence in the UK. If they have not reached the five-year point before the UK officially leaves the EU they will be able to apply for a temporary status until they reach this point.

It is likely that even those EEA nationals who already have confirmation of permanent residence will be required to apply for settled status. After holding this for 12 months the individual may be eligible to naturalise as a British citizen. EEA citizens who entered the UK after the specified date may apply for permission to remain in the UK under the future immigration rules for EEA citizens (yet to be determined).

European Council President Donald Tusk said the plan was, ‘below expectations’. As the government document is only a proposal it may be up for negotiation during the Brexit discussions. Additionally, these proposals could change following the loss of a Conservative majority in the House of Commons.

Retaining your valued staff

To protect themselves against the effect of Brexit, and the potential loss of valued employees in the future, schools should ascertain who their EEA workforce is and how they can support them. School business managers may wish to consider supporting applications for confirmation of permanent residence or, indeed, British citizenship for their EEA workforce now.

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Useful information to collate includes: their work start date, job role, salary, work location and any specialist skills that are difficult to locate within the domestic labour market.

For the future, schools should give thought to their recruitment strategy. Is there scope to upskill, attract, retain and train the British/settled labour force? Is there scope to consider automation of the role or out-sourcing it overseas? How can schools better attract potential British/settled staff? However, schools must remember to not discriminate against individuals – by refusing to offer a role to them based on their nationality – otherwise they could be at risk of a discrimination claim.

The results of uncertainty

In the meantime, the greatest worry for EEA citizens at this time is that they may be forced to leave the UK. Although this maybe an unfounded fear in many scenarios, it could result in EEA citizens leaving the UK of their own volition in the wake of Brexit.

This could lead to skills shortages and the loss of valued staff members. Schools can respond to the Migration Advisory Committee’s ‘call for evidence’ on the impact of ending the free movement of EEA nationals to have a say in how policy in this area develops in going forward.

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