Brexit, immigration and employment


Following the initial publication of the draft withdrawal agreement on 28 February 2018, EU Counsel and UK Government held a joint Brexit, immigration and employment press conference on 19 March 2018 to announce that they had reached an agreement regarding key issues of the withdrawal agreement. The most important information provided by this conference was the length of the transition period (as well as some details about the process) and the timing for EU nationals in the UK to apply for residence documentation.

According to the agreement, the transition period will start on 29 March 2019 until 31 March 2020 and the free movement of the EU/EEA nationals will continue during the transition period. As for the EU/EEA nationals who are resident in the UK prior to the Brexit Day – 29 March 2019, they will have six months to apply for residence documentation after the 31 March 2020. It is also expected that some leniency will be exercised to individuals who prove “reasonable grounds for failure” regarding the failure to obtain new documentation before the deadline. Additionally, the right for EU/EEA nationals moving to the UK during the transition period to join the pathway to settled status and to bring with them non-EU family members will remain the same during the transition period. Likewise, British citizens and EU citizens who arrive in a new country during the transition period will benefit from the same rights and guarantees as those who arrived before Brexit.
However, considering the fact that the draft withdrawal agreement will be ratified later this year, the agreement remains uncertain.


On 27 March 2018, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published an interim report that presents the concerns of employers regarding the impact of Brexit, immigration and employment and restricting immigration in the UK and sets out a summary of the views expressed by employers and of the regional issues raised to the MAC.
To begin with, one of the most disputed question is regarding the definition of a high-skilled job. Since it has been interpreted as only those professional jobs which are typically performed by university graduates, employers are concerned that many workers needed in the UK will not qualify for a work permit with this narrow interpretation. The report states “The vast majority of employers do not deliberately seek to fill vacancies with migrant workers”. Hence, the reason why they choose non-UK citizens is because either they are the best suitable for the job or they are the only candidates, especially for low-skilled or unskilled roles. As a result, it is imperative that there is some form of low-skilled route, or a broad interpretation of high-skilled job, for EU migrant workers in the UK in the medium to long term.
On the other hand, MAC disagrees with the employers on the claims about the impact of the higher wages when they are recruiting and retaining workers. It is argued by the MAC that “Individual employers would almost always be able to recruit resident workers if they paid wages sufficiently above the going rate. This applies even if there are skills shortages at the national level – an individual employer should always be able to fill the job if a sufficiently high wage is offered”. However, MAC also added small margins and rising costs in other areas may mean that higher wages are unaffordable for employers.
Taking into consideration the uncertainties of Brexit in relation to immigration and its impacts on employment, employers are hesitating to make important decisions on recruitment. While the current immigration system of free movement for EU/EEA nationals and work permits for non-EEA nationals will continue throughout the Brexit transition period, employers are understandably impatient to know more about the process.

We will hopefully start to see the real impacts of the up-coming immigration system on Brexit, immigration and employment when the report is finalised in September 2018. With the final report, the UK Government will have a base to decide how to change the current system and adopt it post-Brexit. Until then, employers are advised to conduct an audit to identify the number of their EU employees and their likelihood of meeting the possible requirements.

It should be noted that this blog post provides general information regarding the subject matter.

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