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Fears That Brexit Will Spark EU Worker Exodus

Back in 2017, a study conducted by KPMG found that more than one million EU workers living in the UK saw their future outside the country post-Brexit, a move many refer to as a ‘Brexodus’.

Four years on, having surpassed the Brexit transition period, how exactly has Brexit affected the number of EU workers living in the UK?

We take a look at the figures so far as well as the new rules for EU workers which came into effect in the UK from 1st January 2021.

Image relative to politic relationships between Europe Union and United Kingdom. National flags on concrete textured backdrop. Brexit and UK art theme.

EU Workers In The UK Post Brexit

Following the referendum, 2016 saw the number of EU workers living in the UK fall dramatically from 625,550 to 418,832 in 2018, its lowest level since 2013. 2019, however, saw a slight increase in figures with 456,442 EU citizens being allocated National Insurance Numbers.

Whilst on the whole, UK immigration figures have declined, the data shows that more migrants are entering the UK than leaving. Work continues to be the main reason for EU citizens to move to the UK, with study and family as the other two key reasons.

Data from 2019 shows that there were 3.6 million EU born migrants living in the UK, which accounted for 5.5% of the UK’s population, suggesting that EU migration became more stable.

Poland was the largest country of origin, making up around 23% of the UK’s EU population with 818,000 people. The other EU countries following behind were Romania with 427,000 people, Ireland with 360,000 people, Germany with 289,000 and Italy with 233,000 people.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) outlines that the year ending March 2020, saw around 715,000 people move to the UK and around 403,000 people leaving the UK. There was a rise in immigration from non-EU nationals, with the majority arriving for study purposes.

Despite the looming Brexit transition period, EU citizens continued to arrive in the UK during 2020, with 195,000 citizens arriving with an intention of staying 12 months or more, as around 137,000 left the UK, creating net migration of around 58,000 for EU citizens.

Future For EU Citizens In UK

Whilst it was reiterated that EU citizens lawfully living in the UK prior to the transition period would not be affected by Brexit, many EU born residents still continue to question their future in the UK.

Even post-Brexit, there remain many uncertainties with regard to trade and travel, with many believing that conditions will become more challenging. Some EU born residents have claimed that they no longer feel as welcome or that they somehow don’t belong in the country as a result of Brexit.

Although, with UK immigration figures showing some improvements over the past year, it seems that confidence could slowly be restored.

New 2021 Rules For EU Workers In The UK

Following the end of the Brexit transition period, from 1st January 2021, a new immigration system will come into force for EU citizens looking to work in the UK.

EU citizens will need to obtain a visa in advance (previously one was not needed). Those applying for a skilled worker visa must be able to show proof of a job offer, however, the employer must be an approved sponsor.

During this time, there will also be a new points-based immigration system for EU workers, which replaces the previous ‘freedom of movement’ system.

The new system will consider factors such as skills, language and salary. It has been confirmed that migrants will need to reach 70 points in order to obtain a visa.

20 points will be awarded for:

  • A job offer by an approved sponsor
  • Job at an appropriate skill level
  • PhD in a STEM field
  • A salary of £25,600 or above

10 points will also be awarded for:

  • Speaking English
  • A salary of £23,040 to £25,599

Migrants will be categorised into 4 tiers including:

  • Temporary workers – those involved in seasonal work
  • Students
  • Skilled workers
  • High value workers – workers considered to have an ‘exceptional talent’

The new system does not apply for EU citizens who were living in the UK prior to 31st December 2020.

What Is An Approved Sponsor?

From 1st January 2021, employers must obtain a sponsor licence to be able to employ workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.

To apply for a sponsor license, businesses must head over to the government website, check their business is eligible, select the type of license, state who will manage the sponsorship and pay a fee. Providing the application is successful, businesses will receive a certificate of sponsorship which will be valid for 4 years.

Studies have shown that many businesses do not feel thoroughly prepared for the new immigration rules, with many focusing on retaining current staff rather than the recruitment of new employees. The added financial woes of the COVID-19 pandemic has also shifted the priorities of many businesses. Immigrations specialists, however, have urged relevant companies to place sponsorship at the top of their priorities list and advised them to ‘act soon’.

Read more opinion about potential changes to the workforce post-Brexit and guidance for businesses wanting to attract and retain overseas talent in Vision: Brexit.

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