If you’ve got non-UK EU nationals working in your company, what action might you take to calm the waters during this period of uncertainty? Lets look at some figures. There are some 2.15m non-UK EU citizens working in the UK (source: ONS, May2016), who paid roughly a net £2.5bn in tax and NI contributions (source: HMRC) in 2014, the latest year on record.
Your non-UK EU employees will already know that their continued ability to work in the UK is assured until the end of the two year negotiation period, which will start once Article 50 finally gets invoked. As the end of negotiations moves closer, this may cause them to consider changing their employment, and possibly even to return home. You can reassure them by providing support and encouragement, even when the political situation remains confused. Regular updates, even those saying “No News”, are much better than silence and a vacuum.
Some expert legal minds have pointed to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, and they state “withdrawal from a treaty releases the parties from any future obligations to each other but does not affect any rights or obligations acquired under it before withdrawal”, the implication being that a right to work in the UK conferred by treaty may not then be revoked when the UK leaves the EU. This would similarly apply to the estimated 800k British citizens who are working in the EU.
We can’t see the UK government actually seeking to cause major employer hassles, possible employment shortages, and a reduced tax take by forcing all non-UK EU nationals to leave their UK employment. There will inevitably be some political horse-trading during the BREXIT negotiations, and some likely brinksmanship, but you should confidently be able to reassure your employees that its quite unlikely that there will be any major turmoil, and that looking for a new job isn’t necessary.
Of course, one way around any potential problems is for your non-UK EU employees who have been in the UK for more than five years is to seek UK citizenship (EEA nationals can apply after three years). Note that since 12 November 2015, applicants will now need to apply for a permanent residence certificate or card. This change is introduced by the British Nationality (General) (Amendment No. 3) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/1806).
Any non-UK and non-EU foreign nationals that are your employees will likely not be affected at all by any of these changes, although we would expect that in time there will be yet more changes to UK Immigration rules.
The key message for the next few months is one of “keep calm and carry on as normal”! Be patient, and do everything possible to reassure your non-UK EU employees of your ongoing support.