The announcement by Home Secretary Priti Patel that she intends to stop freedom of movement from the EU on 1 November in the event of no-deal, may have pleased some in her party but it is adding to employers’ worries about staffing.

EU immigration to the UK has already fallen to its lowest level since 2013 and, according to Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry, a sudden end to free movement will make a bad situation worse.

“Business owners need time to prepare for such a radical change, particularly as 95% of small employers have no experience of using the points-based element of our immigration system,” he argued.

Mr Cherry highlighted that one in five small employers rely on the skills of EU citizens and — with employment levels at record-highs — one in three now say finding the right staff is a major barrier to growth.

His views were echoed on behalf of larger employers by CBI Chief UK Policy Director Matthew Fell. He said: “Business understands that free movement is ending, but it marks a huge change in the way firms access skills and labour. They’ll need proper time to adapt to a new system.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found some rather paradoxical grounds for hope in the fact that fewer EU nationals seem to be leaving the UK.

“It seems possible that many EU citizens who have yet to secure settled status may be fearful of the consequences of leaving the UK if they wish to return, especially those EU citizens who have yet to secure settled status,” it explained.

The prospect of migration restrictions may therefore perversely be helping employers to ease their recruitment difficulties in the short-term, senior labour market advisor Gerwyn Davies suggested.

No such optimism from the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation), however, as it described growing uncertainty and unease among businesses and EU employees about the potential impact of no-deal on jobs and society.

Director of Policy and Campaigns Tom Hadley said: “The Government must stop posturing and urgently develop a transition plan that ensures EU citizens currently working here feel welcomed and can continue to do so from day one after Brexit. It is hard to believe that Government continues to leave businesses and EU citizens in the dark, with such little clarity on the biggest questions with just 10 weeks to go.”

It should be noted that recent press reports have suggested that Ms Patel has received advice that the abrupt end of freedom of movement would be open to legal challenge and that there would be a strong possibility that the Government would lose.

Comment by Croner Associate Director Paul Holcroft

Navigating the waters of a post-Brexit job market was always going to be difficult for UK employers. However, this challenge could be made worse if freedom of movement comes to an abrupt end on 1 November 2019.

Whilst employers will be able to retain pre-existing EU staff in the immediate aftermath, their ability to hire new EU nationals will be heavily restricted, especially if they had not been residing in the UK by ‘Brexit Day’.

Many business owners already find right to work checks particularly onerous and employers can expect these procedures to become increasingly complex once freedom of movement comes to an end.

Therefore, it will be important to have a robust procedure in place when reviewing job applications from foreign nationals, as employing those without the correct visa requirements could result in enforcement action.

Last reviewed 2 September 2019