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The End of the Brexit Transition Period - Reminders for University HR Teams

on Thursday, 18 February 2021.

The post-Brexit transition period came to an end at 11pm on 31 December 2020. At virtually the 11th hour a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was reached between the UK and EU. But what does this all mean for employment and immigration law in the UK?

Existing employment law is heavily influenced by the EU, but none of that will change - at least, not immediately. Existing EU law has, broadly speaking, been converted into UK law as retained EU law. Key areas, such as protection against discrimination for those with "protected characteristics" (eg age, race and religion), will continue on the same terms. Rights around maternity, paternity and other similar leave will also remain unchanged. However, it of course remains to be seen the extent to which domestic law may start to diverge from EU law.

The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are no longer required to follow existing (ie pre-2021) Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions and are now free to diverge from CJEU decisions.

An early indication of the extent to which the UK Supreme Court is prepared to do this will be found when judgment is handed down on the holiday pay cases which are to be heard this year.

Free Movement of People

One area of law that has already changed quite significantly is immigration. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 received Royal Assent in November and provided for the end of the EU's free movement rules in the UK at 11pm on 31 December 2020. New Immigration Rules have already been introduced to pave the way for increased levels of visa sponsorship by employers under the new Skilled Worker route.

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals and their eligible family members who were living in the UK by the end of the transition period must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme for immigration status that permits them to continue living and working here. The deadline to apply is 30 June 2021. Although over 5 million applications have already been made under the Scheme, some eligible EEA nationals may not yet have applied. Universities should ensure that all valued employees are aware of the Scheme and its deadline.

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Conducting Right to Work Checks

There is still some confusion amongst employers on the checks they need to conduct following the Brexit transition period to establish that employees have the right to work in the UK.

The Government has said that the right to work checklist and guidance will not change until 1 July 2021 so until then, employers can continue to accept, for example, an EU national passport as proof that someone has the right to work in the UK. We are also told that after 30 June 2021 employers will not need to conduct retrospective checks on existing employees, including those EEA nationals who start work between 1 January and 30 June 2021.

However, university employers will still be anxious to ensure that their employees have the required immigration permission. Even if they are not liable to a civil penalty for employing an illegal worker because they have conducted the required checks, there may be business continuity issues if employees suddenly have to leave the UK. EEA and Swiss nationals who are not eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme must have some other form of immigration permission entitling them to work from 1 January onwards. If an employer knows or has reasonable cause to believe that an employee does not have the right to work then it loses its statutory excuse.

Therefore, in addition to reminding existing employees of the EU Settlement Scheme and encouraging them to apply, universities may want to consider their recruitment forms and paperwork to ensure that they strike the right balance between ensuring that they do not discriminate, while making applicants aware that that they may need some additional form of immigration permission to work in the UK.

Our team of experienced immigration lawyers advise universities on all aspects of immigration law which affect their operations. The team is currently delivering training to university HR teams on the recent changes to the immigration system. 

If you have any queries, please contact Tom Brett Young in our Immigration Law team on 07393 148 352, or complete the form below.

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