Brexit: Labour Supply and Workforce Planning

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 14 January 2019
The Employment Law Team at DWF LLP
DWF (Northern Ireland) LLP
Issues covered:

With less than three months until the UK's withdrawal from the EU, an issue of crucial importance for Northern Ireland employers, especially those who employ so-called "low skilled" workers from the EU, is the abolition of the right of freedom of movement. This will inevitably present employers with significant and in some cases, insurmountable problems when recruiting the right talent post-Brexit.

Presently, Northern Ireland employers find it relatively easy to recruit and employ EU citizens because those citizens enjoy an almost unfettered access to enter, reside and work in the UK. These rights are automatically acquired by virtue of their Member State citizenship, which provides a gateway to permanent residence status and UK citizenship.

What lies ahead for employers, post-Brexit?

In its June 2018 "Statement of Intent Document", the Government set out further details of its "EU Settlement Scheme" for EU citizens. The document proposed that those EU citizens who have lived in the UK for a continuous period of five years, as at 31st December 2020, will be entitled to apply for “settled status”, which is a broadly equivalent status to permanent residence or Indefinite Leave to Remain. By obtaining this status, EU citizens will also secure the continuing right to legally work in the UK.

For those EU citizens who arrive in the UK before 31 December 2020 but do not meet the five year continuous residency test, an opportunity to apply for "pre-settled status" will be available, which will enable them to reside and work in the UK after December 2020 until they obtain five years' continuous residence.

Recruitment of EU workers post-Brexit?

In accordance with the Prime Minister's pledge to end "freedom of movement once and for all", the Government's long-awaited Immigration White Paper, which was published in December 2018, has confirmed that EU citizens will not be offered preferential treatment and instead will be subject to the existing points-based system and UK immigration rules. Essentially, this will create a new single system of immigration which applies to all nationalities, both EU and non-EU. Any employer with experience of navigating the existing system will be aware of its arduous and complex nature.  This will invariably impact on the recruitment and employment of low skilled EU workers, who under a temporary arrangement, will be restricted to short term visas of up to one year and will be prohibited from having family members join them in the UK and potentially claiming benefits or applying for settlement.

It is clear that the White Paper's main objective is to introduce a new skilled-based migration policy, which seeks to attract only skilled workers from the EU and the rest of the world. These workers will have to earn a set minimum salary (present recommendation of £30,000 per annum) in a job requiring qualifications at A-level equivalent standard or above.

Workforce planning: Steps that employers can take in advance of a post-Brexit labour market

1. Audit your workforce

  • Carry out risk assessments and workforce audits to ascertain the likely impact that Brexit will have on your ability to both retain and employ EU workers;
  • Identify the number of EU workers currently employed by you in the UK in order to allow you to identify those workers who will require their status to be regularised;
  • Include both EU and non-EU nationals in your workforce audit;
  • Make appropriate arrangements for your UK workers/employees based in other EU countries.

2. Introduce support programmes to assist employees in securing the appropriate immigration status and ongoing right to work in the UK

  • Clear and effective communication is of vital importance in the retention of EU workers;
  • Reassure and inform your EU workers of the latest developments and proposals and their ability to remain in the UK post-Brexit;
  • Explore options for your EU employees – Do they qualify for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme? Do they enjoy the right to obtain UK or even Irish citizenship?
  • Support your EU workers by providing access to professional assistance in securing status. Many employers, such as universities, are assisting EU workers with legal and Home Office fees.


Whilst Brexit has undoubtedly created uncertainty for employers and businesses, the blueprint for employing EU workers post-Brexit has to a large extent crystallised, allowing employers to move forward with some degree of certainty on the issue of retention and recruitment. In order to prevent a labour shortage issue, assess your workforce now and engage with affected employees. In short, take control now to safeguard your key assets.  


This article is correct at 14/01/2019

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

The Employment Law Team at DWF LLP
DWF (Northern Ireland) LLP

The main content of this article was provided by The Employment Law Team at DWF LLP.

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