EU Settlement Scheme – What Can Employers do to support EU nationals in their workforce?
With just two months now until we reach the date for the UK’s departure from the EU and no greater clarity on what final shape Brexit will take, it is an unsettling time for European nationals and their employers.
On 21 January the Home Office opened the voluntary public testing phase of the EU Settlement Scheme. On the same day it was announced that the application fee (currently £65 for an adult) will be cancelled when the scheme is fully opened on 30 March 2019 and that anyone who has applied during the testing phase will be entitled to have their fee reimbursed.
But what is this scheme, how do you apply and is there anything that employers should be doing now to help employees navigate this process?
What is the EU Settlement Scheme?
The Scheme is an application to the Home Office for EU citizens and their family members who wish to live and work in the UK after the withdrawal agreement transition period or after a no-deal Brexit.
Individuals with indefinite leave to remain in or enter the UK need not apply.
In line with the draft Withdrawal Agreement, individuals will have until 30 June 2021 to apply and their rights will remain unchanged until then, provided they are resident in the UK by 31 December 2020. The government has recently announced that if the withdrawal agreement including a transition period is not ratified in time, the Scheme will still go ahead but the cut off dates and deadlines will be brought forward.
The Scheme allows individuals to continue to live, work and study in the UK and remain eligible for public services such as healthcare and schools, public funds and pensions and British citizenship (if they want to apply and meet the requirements).
Those who have been resident in the UK for more than 5 continuous years will be eligible for settled status and those who have been resident for less than 5 continuous years will be eligible for pre-settled status. There is very little difference between the two statuses and those that are pre-settled can apply to become settled once they have the required 5 years’ residence.
How do you Apply?
During the public test phase applicants must use the EU Exit: ID Document Check app on an Android phone with NFC ( Near Field Communication) to scan their passport and their face.
Once the scheme is fully open on 30 March, EU citizens with biometric national ID cards will be able to apply online and use this to prove their identity instead of a passport and there will also be the option of sending the ID document by post.
The Home Office will check applicants’ identity tax and benefits and criminal records.
Successful applicants will be able to prove their status using an online service but no physical document will be granted.
What can Employers do now?
With Brexit just around the corner, employers should now be putting time and resources into safeguarding the status of their European workforce.
If you have not already done so, you should urgently carry out a full audit of your workforce to identify who is impacted by Brexit. Remember not to overlook the family members of EU nationals who may currently only be entitled to remain in the UK by virtue of their relationship with the EU national.
Employers should play an active role in encouraging employees to consider their status early on and apply for the most appropriate documentation. This can be done by hosting information workshops with immigration experts or by signposting employees to useful sources of information.
The government’s EU Settlement Scheme toolkit contains factsheets, posters and videos which you can use to raise awareness of the Scheme among your staff.
We would also suggest that you diarise a date for carrying out full right to work checks for your employees well before the settlement scheme deadline for applications on 30 June 2021 (or December 2020 in the event of a no deal scenario) to ensure that all of your employees still have the right to work for you in the UK.
For more information on this subject, please contact Camilla Beamish.