1. Tell us about yourself and your area of expertise.
I was born in California in the USA but came to the UK many years ago, qualifying here as a Solicitor of England and Wales. It sounds a bit cliché, but I had been interested in a career in law since my school days whilst also wanting to work in an industry which would help people. Lawyers often have bad press, the assumption being that they are only there when things go wrong, but in my field – which is UK immigration – this isn’t always true. I am lucky to have found my niche in a specialist area which means that I get to meet people from all over the world and from all walks of life, helping them to be together with loved ones or to achieve career aspirations by securing the appropriate visas for them (and often their family members) to come to and remain in the UK. I like the constantly evolving nature of immigration law and its effect on global mobility and the global workplace.
I began my career in the Employment and Immigration department of a City law firm where I remained for ten years, then accepting partnership at a London firm where I was Head of the Employment and Immigration Team. Some years later I moved to St Albans and decided to reduce my commute for the first time in many years and to work more locally to home. Although a part of my heart is and always will be in California, I love St Albans and cannot imagine a better place to live and to bring up my young family.
2. How do you think Brexit will impact the UK labour market?
Despite early concerns about Brexit’s impact on employment, employment levels have continued to grow since the referendum to leave the European Union in 2016. Despite inevitable questions about what might or could happen, I haven’t personally seen much evidence to suggest that Brexit has dampened employers’ interest in employing EU migrant workers. The most common reason given to me by employers as to why they employ EU workers is that they do not consider nationality when hiring, but simply choose the best person for the job. If anything, it is the EU workers themselves who have felt the impact of Brexit far more intensely. There is undoubtedly an element of anxiety; many EU nationals feel rejected by the UK, worry that they will have to pack up and leave their lives here, which have often been built on many years of residence and integration and for that reason I suspect that the UK labour market might notice hiring difficulties initially whilst people work out the new settlement scheme and regain their confidence in the UK as both a workplace and a country in which they can reside happily.
It is worth pointing out that freedom of movement of workers won’t be changing anytime soon. The UK and EU have agreed to retain mutual freedom of movement until at least the end of the transition period in December 2020. EU workers who arrive in the UK before that date will have the same rights and benefits as those already living here. EU citizens who are resident here at that time will be able to apply for “settled status” after 5 years’ continuous residence, giving them indefinite leave to remain. Effectively, this means that UK companies can take advantage of an extended period of free movement of workers, able to reach an EU workforce that is likely to be more difficult and expensive to access from January 2021 onwards.
3. What will be some of the key changes to immigration and visa applications post Brexit?
If only I had a crystal ball to answer this question! There have been lots of changes mooted, particularly since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. Prime Minister Johnson ands Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, have talked of their plans to reform our current immigration system. They want to “take full control of the UK’s borders” and have talked of implementing a points-based system of immigration. We already have a points-based arrangement in place for non-EEA nationals which has been in place for ten years, but free movement rules meant it could not be applied to EEA nationals. Prime Minister Johnson has been vocal about his desire to bring EU freedom of movement to an end by 2021. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will formally stop free movement and allow the government to replace existing border control measures with a points-based system. It will mean that EU citizens who can currently come to the UK to live and work without having to pass any tests or meet any specific requirements will be subject to the same treatment as non-EU citizens. This will “enable the government to deliver a single global immigration system based on people’s skills”; all people who want to move to the UK will be rated on their skills and on the contribution they could make to society.
The exact mechanics of the new points-based system have not yet been revealed but are expected to be published sometime this month.
4. How can businesses prepare for the changes?
There are still so many unknowns, especially whilst it remains unclear what the future EU-UK trading relationship will look like. From a workforce perspective, businesses must understand the rights and status of all of their EU workers to ensure that they are employing them legally after the UK leaves the EU. Even though companies should have systems in place to prevent illegal working, Brexit is a good reason to set aside time to carry out an audit of all staff in terms of where they work and their immigration status. I have attended a number of my clients’ office premises to carry out these audits with them. I have also helped businesses to offer information sessions for their EU workers, to answer any questions that they might have about their right to continue living and working in the UK. This is certainly something that employers might wish to offer to reassure staff, and to keep open lines of communication so that they feel comfortable raising any questions that they might have. Having a basic understanding of the EU Settlement Scheme or being able to signpost EU workers is advisable. Offering specific legal and immigration advice and practical guidance regarding applications for the new “pre and settled status” and naturalisation as a British citizen, as well as ongoing active engagement with EU staff to reassure individuals that they are valued and fully supported in the business are all advisable.
Contact details: T: +44 (0)1727 832830 E-mail: Melissa.Vangeen@sherrards.com