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What is the EU Settlement Scheme, and does it apply to my workers?

Brexit has proven a confusing time for businesses for a multitude of reasons. For employers, it has left a question mark as to how EU employees can continue to live and work in the UK.

Before leaving the EU, the UK government announced the EU Settlement Scheme. As the free movement of people offered under the Single Market would no longer stand, the Scheme was created to allow EU citizens already living in the country to stay here.

Although Brexit has taken place, the EU Settlement Scheme is still open, though limited time remains.

Below, we have outlined the EU Settlement Scheme and how it could impact your business and its workers.

What is the EU Settlement Scheme?

As we have already mentioned, the EU Settlement Scheme is an initiative that enables people who originally come from the EU to remain in the UK, provided they moved here before 31st December 2020.

If an application is successful, the recipient will have the right to live and work in the EU after the scheme end date of 30th June 2021. Two types of statuses can be issued: pre-settled and settled.

If an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen has lived in the UK for five straight years, they can apply through the EU Settlement Scheme for ‘Settled Status’, which will ensure they, plus their eligible family members, can continue to live and work in the UK.

If an eligible citizen hasn’t lived in the UK for five continuous years, they can apply for ‘Pre-Settled Status’, allowing them to continue to live and work in the UK whilst they accumulate five years of residence which will then allow them to apply for ‘Settled Status’.

The free online application service for the EU Settlement Scheme is currently open, so eligible citizens are being encouraged to apply now to be granted status in time for the deadline. If relevant individuals have not applied under the scheme by this date, they could lose the right to live, work and access healthcare in the UK. They may also face deportation.

Does it apply to my workers?

If you employ eligible citizens or employees whose family members are eligible citizens, the scheme will directly apply to them. The criteria for application are as follows:

  • They moved to the EU ahead of 31st December 2020, when Brexit took place
  • They are EU, EEA or Swiss citizens (even if they were born in the UK)
  • They have family members who are EU, EEA or Swiss citizens
  • They do not already have British citizenship

If they meet any of the above, they should consider applying to the scheme if they wish to remain in the UK. There is also a checker tool that will tell them if they are eligible or not.

If you are looking to employ EU citizens that came to the UK after 31st December, this needs to be in full consideration of the points-based immigration system, which focuses on bringing skilled workers into the country.

What about seasonal workers?

If you regularly employ seasonal workers or plan to in the future, there are changes to how this works. Seasonal work isn’t typically allowed under the points-based system. However, the government has launched a Seasonal Workers Pilot that enables temporary staff to work in the horticultural sector.

The pilot has been extended for 2021 to enable more employees to come over temporarily.

Companies can also apply for a ‘Temporary Worker’ licence to bring candidates to the UK from overseas to fill short-term roles. However, this only applies to specific roles.

What you can do as an employer

As an employer, there are steps you can take to inform your staff of the EU Settlement Scheme. Be aware of who it is likely to impact in your workforce – both direct employees and their family members as they may require additional support or assistance. This can take place in the form of providing up-to-date information, arranging for immigration or speaking to an advisor to access support.

Make use of the government’s employer EU Settlement Scheme toolkit, which provides factsheets, posters and media clips to help you raise awareness of the scheme and up-to-date advice for your workers.

While you can inform employees of the scheme, they are under no obligation to apply. You cannot pressure them to do so or ask them if they have received status. If they do not wish to remain in the UK after 30th June, they will not need to seek status.

After the scheme ends, you may then need to implement right to work checks to comply with employment law. However, these checks do not need to be carried out on workers you already employ and, if the Visa Service find an issue, it will be flagged to you accordingly.

If you need advice on how to prepare your staff for the EU Settlement Scheme ahead of its closing to applications, we can help. Our team of advisors can provide guidance regarding employment and recruitment to help you address skills gaps, support staff and retain talent.

Our advice can also be funded through the SME Brexit Support Fund.