With less than five months to go before Brexit, the government is continuing to send mixed messages as to the nature and extent of right to work checks employers will have to undertake after 29 March 2019. Over the summer, the Home Office indicated that it would not require employers to run checks on EU citizens as a prerequisite to offering them jobs, however this position appears to have now changed as the government adopts a tougher stance on the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.
In the latest appearance before the parliamentary select committee, the Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, revealed that the government will introduce a requirement for employers to check EU nationals’ right to work in the UK in case of a no-deal Brexit. When she was asked to provide more details and elaborate on the new policy, the minister could not give a clear answer and indicated that it would be up to employers to establish whether a particular EU national had the right to work in the UK. After further questioning by MPs, however, she conceded that carrying out such checks would pose practical difficulties, and that she would respond to MPs in writing in due course.
Earlier this year, the government made an announcement that it would introduce a new settled status for EU nationals, which would enable them to continue to live and work in the UK after Brexit. However, it is clear that there are currently practical challenges to achieving this enormous task, since it is estimated that around 3.5m people in the UK from the EU will require such a status. It is obvious that requiring employers to indiscriminately run checks on EU nationals from Brexit day onwards will lead to confusion, as it would be impossible for an employer to differentiate between EU nationals who are new arrivals and those who were in the UK before Brexit day but have not yet acquired settled status.
Although the minister did not go into details, she indicated that employers would be required to carry out “rigorous checks” to make sure that a prospective employee has a right to work before appointing them. Whereas it is apparent that the Home Office is stepping up its tougher stance on immigration with such bold statements, the lack of detail is indicative of the government’s haphazard approach to policy-making. Although the minister reaffirmed the previous commitment to “turn off free movement”, failure to provide clear guidance has prompted speculation that the government is underestimating the challenges it faces as Brexit approaches.
Employers have already expressed concerns about the issue of checks, with some claiming that the government is setting them an impossible task. Mike Spicer from the British Chamber of Commerce stated: “Businesses can’t plan on the basis of warm words; they need to see written in black and white directions from the government about how exactly this scheme will operate”.
Gherson will continue to monitor the situation, and once any clear guidance is published, an update will be posted accordingly.
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