Thu 12 Mar 2020

What should businesses do to prepare for the new immigration system?

The announcement of the has been met with some concern by businesses who have traditionally employed EU nationals. 

Sectors including social care, hospitality and agriculture have criticised the system which is due to come into force in 2021 but, with the Conservatives holding a comfortable majority in Parliament, it seems they will likely go ahead with the new system as planned.

In the last two weeks, I have been advising a number of businesses, across various sectors, about the implications of the new system.  So here are my thoughts on what businesses should be doing now

  • Don’t wait or expect changes to the new system

A number of commentators have argued the new system can’t be ready for 1 January 2021, and that some form of transitional arrangement will be necessary, but I don’t think that’s likely. On the day the proposals were announced, I took part in a conference call with Home Office officials and the impression I received was that the announcement was the transitional arrangement. Further criteria will be added, and an additional route for people without job offers will be created in the future, but the skilled route will be coming into force in 2021.

Obviously, as we’ve seen with almost everything related to Brexit, timescales can change, but I wouldn’t recommend that employers bury their head in the sand and ignore the new system.

  • Prioritise existing employees

Many organisations have already made strides to make sure their existing employees can work in the UK after June 2021. For those that haven’t taken steps, or for organisations who haven’t yet completed the process, the priority has to be to secure the rights of existing staff. The new system makes it clear that it will be more expensive, and more difficult, to recruit from the EU in the future so anything which minimises turnover is a good idea.

It’s also a good idea for businesses that rely on EU contractors to speak to them. There will be no route for self employed EU nationals after the end of 2020, but if someone has registered for Pre Settled Status they will be able to come and go for at least the next five years. Any business which relies on seasonal workers or contractors should ensure they register now. Doing so will minimise the effect of the new system, and give the business more time to identify alternative sources of workers.

  • Make sure potential new recruits understand their rights

Many of the organisations I represent have experienced difficulties recruiting from the EU in recent years. There are many reasons for this, but one common one is a misconception that EU nationals who enter the UK after Brexit aren’t allowed to stay long term.

Any EU national who enters the UK before the end of 2020 can apply for Pre Settled Status, and eventually live in the UK permanently without engaging with the new immigration system. Making that message clear will help with recruitment, and for EU nationals who have previously lived in the UK there may be a possibility of claiming Settled Status based on previous residence.

  • Get a Sponsor Licence

Until recently, the Home Office were reluctant to accept speculative applications for Sponsor Licences. The policy paper announcing the new system made clear that businesses should apply for a Licence now so they are ready for January 2021, so it would seem that speculative applications are now welcomed.

The cost of obtaining a Sponsor Licence can be relatively low, but it takes time to make sure a business has sufficient systems in place to meet the compliance obligations. Starting now will allow a business to be in the best possible position when the new system comes into force.


Every business will have slightly different needs, and it’s important that early consideration is given to how to best handle the challenges that will be presented by the new system. Our expert team of solicitors can give advice, and identify solutions, for businesses looking to:

  • Train managers on the new system;
  • Communicate with staff and encourage early registration;
  • Preparing information packs for recruiters and potential candidates; and
  • Plan for new immigration system.

If you would like to discuss how we can help, please get in touch.


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