The UK life sciences industry relies heavily upon a European workforce. With the end of the implementation period looming, the immigration implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU should be considered urgently.
Existing European workforce in the UK
Until the end of the implementation period (which, as it stands, will be at 11.00pm on 31 December 2020), European nationals and their family members are still freely able to enter the UK to live and work here just as before.
EU Settlement Scheme
In order to remain in the UK in the long term, European nationals and their family members who are in the UK by 11.00pm on 31 December 2020 must make an application under the EU Settlement Scheme (the “Scheme”). If they fail to apply by the deadline, which is currently 30 June 2021, they are likely to be in the UK unlawfully and will not be permitted to work here.
The vast majority of European nationals and their family members in the UK must therefore take action under the Scheme by next June. There are, however, certain categories of people in this group who do not need to apply to the Scheme, such as those with Irish or dual British citizenship or those with Indefinite Leave to Remain/Enter issued under the domestic UK immigration rules.
Action points for employers
In the life sciences industry, where individuals are highly skilled and often in high demand, employers should take a proactive approach to safeguarding their current European workforce by:
- auditing their workforce to see who will be affected
- checking who has already applied under the Scheme and offering support to those who have not yet done so
- diarising to check that everyone affected has applied by 30 June 2020
Employers also need to be wary of the risk of discriminating against European nationals. Until 31 December 2020, European nationals will still have the right to enter the UK for work on the basis of their current European passport. The UK Government has confirmed that employers can continue to rely on checking the individual’s EEA passport to satisfy the “right to work” check until 30 June 2021.
Employing European nationals under the new immigration system
European nationals will be treated the same as non-European nationals
As it stands, the free movement provisions for European nationals and their family members will end at 11.00pm on 31 December 2020. New immigration rules are due to be in place from January 2021, under which European nationals arriving for the first time to live and work in the UK will be treated in the same way as non-European nationals. This means that, in most cases, European nationals arriving from January 2021 will need a job offer and sponsorship by a UK company under the Tier 2 regime in order to work in the UK.
The Tier 2 sponsorship system currently only allows employers to sponsor non-EEA nationals to undertake highly skilled, professional or managerial roles. However, from January 2021, the skills threshold is being lowered so that UK employers will also be able to sponsor non-UK nationals to undertake medium-skilled roles.
Considerations for employers
The majority of roles filled by non-UK nationals in the life sciences sector are likely to meet the highly skilled or medium-skilled threshold for Tier 2 sponsorship. Employers in the industry that are planning to rely on the sponsorship system for future hires from Europe will need to consider the significant costs involved in sponsorship, which can add up to £8,000 per sponsored migrant plus additional fees for any dependants and legal fees. Employers should start budgeting for these costs early on.
Organisations which do not yet hold a Tier 2 sponsorship licence also need to consider whether they should apply for such a licence now to ensure they will be in a position to sponsor European and non-European nationals in the future.
From January 2021, the new immigration system will no longer provide European nationals with free access to the UK labour market. Employers in the life sciences industry that rely on European labour should consider what action to take now to protect their current workforce and review their recruitment strategies to prepare for the changes ahead.