Brexit and the New Immigration System: Impact and Solutions for the Construction and Manufacturing Industries
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Brexit and the New Immigration System: Impact and Solutions for the Construction and Manufacturing Industries

There is a lot going on currently in the world of immigration. We are approaching the end of the Brexit transition period, scheduled for 31 December 2020, and employers are getting to grips with the introduction of the new immigration system coming into effect in the same month. 

Post transition: Immigration rules 

Time is running out and employers across the UK, including the construction and manufacturing industries, are rushing to ensure they understand the relevant rules and possible impact to their business.

Changes in 2021Construction and Manufacturing industry 

There are two particular considerations relevant for the construction and manufacturing industry with respect to immigration. First off, the construction sector tended to draw heavily on EU workers (particularly in London). This understandably has employers concerned how they can keep their current EU staffs immigration compliant, as well  how to recruit new EU labour going forward.

Secondly, before December’s changes to the immigration system, visa/work sponsorship for the sector was often ruled out as a work visa required an individual to be working at a “degree level” job, which ruled out sponsorship for many roles. Helpfully, the government has lowered the skill level required for work visas from RQF Level 6 to RQF Level 3, so roles previously not open to sponsorship, such as building technicians, building contractors, builders, roofers, electricians and other technicians, all now potentially qualify for sponsorship.

We will explore the options and solutions to above considerations below.

Ensuring the current EU workforce can stay

For those EU workers already employed, or those entering prior to 1 January 2021, they can make a relatively simple and free application under the EU Settlement Scheme to enshrine their continued right to work. For those entering after this date, if they are not eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme or already have status under the scheme, they will likely need a work visa, discussed below.

The road ahead: Sponsoring workers

Step 1: Immigration sponsor licence (read our blogs about sponsor licences here and here)

Here is where planning ahead can come in handy, especially if a company does not already hold an immigration sponsor licence. In order to sponsor individuals for work visas, a company must have a sponsor licence, applied for ahead of time, which is then valid for 4 years. Most UK companies trading on a day-to-day basis will qualify to apply for a licence, assuming they have their relevant registrations in place and upon receipt of the correct documentation, the Home Office usually processes applications within 4-6 weeks. Additionally, businesses should be aware that there are several ongoing compliance requirements placed onto sponsors.

Step 2: Obtaining a work visa

Once the licence is in place, employers can issue Certificates of Sponsorship to individuals, which will allow them to apply for the work visa; most likely the work visa of choice being the Skilled Worker visa. Employers will need to ensure they are paying the employee at the minimum level for the role (minimum £25,600 in most cases and sometimes higher, depending on the job role) as well as ensuring the role is skilled enough, although as mentioned, helpfully, the skill level required has dropped to RQF Level 3. Unsurprisingly there is a range of government fees that must be paid in order to obtain the visas (and the fees increase with the visa length requested), although there are smaller fees for smaller companies. Employees will also need to prove their English-speaking skills are sufficient.  

Although the above may seem daunting, by planning ahead and understanding the process of applying for a sponsorship licence and sponsoring migrant workers , employers will put their companies in good shape to be able to continue recruiting the essential labour and talent needed for  successfully operating a business. While under the previous immigration system, the work visa route was essentially foreclosed to most traditional construction and manufacturing roles. The lowering of the skill level has resulted in an olive branch of sorts to the industry despite the loss of freedom of movement for EU workers.

Need help?

It is important to be prepared for the new changes as much as possible  Should you wish to discuss any mobility or immigration related matters concerning Brexit and the new immigration system please reach out to me, Tom Mayhew, at [email protected].

This blog was published on 16 December 2020, and due to the circumstances, there are frequent changes. To keep up to date with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our COVID-19 microsite, subscribe to our alerts and follow us on LinkedIn.