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Key immigration action points for HR in 2021

26 January 2021

Free movement between the UK and the EEA/Switzerland came to an end at 11pm on 31 December 2020. Free movement has been replaced in the UK by the domestic immigration system, including the new Points-Based Immigration System (PBIS). EEA/Swiss nationals, excluding Irish nationals (‘EEA nationals’) who want to work in the UK now need some form of visa permission, depending on when they arrived in the country. This change has massive implications for UK employers. Employers will need to ensure they understand how the rules will affect their business, whether their recruitment plans and budgets are impacted, and whether their staff have the correct status to allow them to continue working both in the UK and abroad. With this in mind we recommend the following key action points for the first half of 2021.


Inform your current EEA employees and their family members about their eligibility for the EU Settlement Scheme to ensure they apply before the relevant deadline


Current EEA employees and their family members who are in the UK must apply under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021. If they fail to do this, they risk losing their right to live and work in the UK. This would cause disruption to their lives and your business and result in significant added cost to resolve the situation. We recommend ensuring your employees are aware of their eligibility for Pre-Settled or Settled Status particularly in the run up to the deadline and offering support for those who need it.

  • Our webinar and Q&A on Brexit and the EU Settlement Scheme has further information.
  • Our article highlights some potential pitfalls to avoid with the EU Settlement Scheme, particularly when the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic are factored in.
  • Finally, we have prepared a simple scenario infographic of what employers need to consider if they are looking to hire an EEA national or family member of an EEA national following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Download it here. 

Need more detailed assistance?

Under the Brexit strand of our Immigration Solutions for HR, you can pick and mix from a range of options to help you navigate the EU Settlement Scheme including our handy FAQ guide, specific training sessions and advice surgeries for your EEA staff.

We are also able to assist individuals with EU Settlement Scheme and British citizenship applications.

Get in touch with a member of our Immigration Team to discuss putting together the right tools for your business.


 Get to grips with the new Points-Based Immigration system


It is important that you understand how the new visa rules under the Points-Based Immigration System affect your business, particularly if you want to continue to recruit EEA nationals.

The previous routes for sponsoring workers have been significantly reformed. For skilled workers, some requirements such as formal resident labour market testing have been removed, and the skill and salary thresholds have been lowered. See our overview article for further information about the main changes.

There are also new visa options such as the frontier worker permit which will assist European cross-border workers who travel to the UK regularly for work to continue to do so now free movement has ended.

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Immigration Law Academies are a one-stop-shop for learning about the new system. The course has been specially designed to give HR and in-house professionals a full overview of the business immigration areas, including the Points-Based Immigration System. Our next Academy is being held on 8 and 9 March 2021. Find out more here.

We also offer bespoke training for businesses who want to train a larger team or just would prefer to tailor a course to their own specific needs. Please get in touch with one of our Immigration Team members to discuss further or to have a chat about what the rules could mean for your business.


Ensure you have an up-to-date sponsor licence if you anticipate recruiting from the EEA and the rest of the world


If you have not used the sponsorship system before, you may find you will now need to use it as employing nationals from the EEA and beyond will require a sponsor licence going forward. It is important to consider applying for one now so that you are ready to use it when you need to recruit. Sponsor licence applications can take up to eight weeks to process so it pays to act in advance.

If you currently have a sponsor licence, you will need to ensure that it is up-to-date and accurately reflects your organisation’s current structure. You may need to make updates to the Home Office or ensure your HR processes are in good shape to meet your growing sponsor licence duties.

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Immigration Team has a wealth of experience in advising on and assisting with sponsor licence applications and can help you with any queries if you are new to the process.

As part of our Immigration Solutions for HR, our Immigration Team can offer training, compliance guides and mock audits of your systems to identify any areas of risk, suggest improvements and prepare you for a real Home Office audit.


Consider the implications of the end of free movement on right to work check


All UK employers have a responsibility to ensure that their employees have the right to work in the UK before they start work and throughout their employment. The end of free movement will necessitate changes to the right to work check system, however the Home Office has indicated that right to work checks will remain the same until 30 June 2021, due to the  six month grace period that EEA nationals have to secure their status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The continuation of existing checks leaves employers open to unwittingly employing someone who does not or who may soon not have status which allows them to work in the UK.

  • Our webinar and Q&A on right to work checks beyond 2020 outlines some of the main issues and how to address them.

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Immigration Solutions for HR provide a full overview of the requirements for right to work compliance. We offer training and e-learning courses on right to work checks to help upskill your team and a handbook which can be used as a learning tool.

In response to the specific issues raised by the grace period, we have developed a best practice guide and template advice to ensure you can manage the period to 30 June 2021 compliantly and in line with your employment law obligations. Our Immigration Team are on hand to share these with you.

We can also help to update your internal policies and recruitment documents to ensure they are ready for when the right to work system will change from 1 July 2021 onwards.


Know what EEA nationals are allowed to do as visitors in the UK


EEA nationals visiting the UK are now required to do so on the same basis as all other visitors. The allowed activities for visitors have been expanded, however the position is significantly restricted in comparison to free movement. EEA nationals and their employers will need to adjust to the new restrictions and ensure they are complied with.

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Immigration Team can assess whether planned activities fall within those allowed for visitors, or whether work permission is required. We can also assist with making visa applications as appropriate.


How about UK nationals visiting or working in Europe? Do you need to consider the rules that will apply to them?


The end of free movement not only affects EEA nationals who work in the UK. It has implications UK nationals who live in, commute to or may want to work on the continent.

If you have a workforce which spans Europe, it is important to factor in the new rules on visiting and working in Europe. UK nationals may now need a visa to work in Europe, which requires local visa support and additional time and financial input.

At Lewis Silkin we can call upon an extensive network of local immigration lawyers via our Ius Laboris network to ensure you can obtain timely, clear and cost effective advice and support for your global moves.

Need more detailed assistance?

Please contact a member of our Immigration Team to obtain further details on how we can support you.


Related items


The UK left the EU at 11pm (UK time) on 31 January 2020, and the transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement reached on Christmas Eve 2020 sets out the shape of the ongoing future relationship between the UK and the EU and provides some degree of certainty for UK businesses.

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