UK Employers & Brexit: Uncertainty reigns

Will departure from the EU limit the freedom of movement for workers across the UK border?

Regardless as to which way the EU referendum vote falls: in or out; UK employers can expect the same rules and regulations that govern them now to apply for at least another two years. After this two year period, uncertainty reigns: Will UK employers experience new measures of ‘red-tape’ that prevent or deter them from hiring individuals from within the European Union?

Nothing is certain, and until that time everything you may read will be flecked with speculation. However, despite this uncertainty, there are agreements and relationships in place between non-EU nations and the EU itself, that can provide some insight as to what may be to come following a Brexit.

It may be possible for the UK to join the European Economic Area (EEA) – considered the ‘Norway Option’ – which would guarantee access to the single market, and allow free movement of workers. In this model little would change, and employers would enjoy the same ease of access to workers from within the European Union that they have today, except perhaps with an added layer of administration.

Another option, which is considered less likely given the current position among EU officials, is the ‘Swiss Option’. This would involve significant negotiation and a series of bilateral deals being struck between the UK and EU. Were this to be the chosen route, it is assumed that the UK would receive the whole package, including free movement of people.

However, this particular option has thus far only been made available to Switzerland, and due to its many components and hitherto exclusive nature, it is considered unlikely that the appetite exists to offer it to the UK.

In the scenario in which the UK decides to opt-out and no arrangements are put into place, employers will be directly affected. It is likely that the UK will attempt to negotiate for the free movement of workers, perhaps in exchange for an agreement on the free movement of goods. However, this is not guaranteed, and if mutually beneficial deals are not made, UK employers can expect an upheaval in the recruitment process for non-UK citizens.

EU workers will be treated in precisely the same manner as that applied to non-EU nationals today. This involves a series of applications and stringent visa requirements before they are admitted into the country. They will face the brunt of UK immigration Law in a political climate which has promised to limit migrant admissions to the tens of thousands.

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