Brexit was formally finalized on 31 January 2020, indicating the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The UK and EU are currently in the transition period of Brexit, set to end on 31 December 2020, during which time negotiations on the future relationship should be taking place.
However, Brexit talks have stalled, mainly as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has swept the world and is still a major cause of disruption for many industries, including the healthcare industry. In a recent news story from The Independent, it was revealed that the UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, have agreed to intensify negotiations, so that an outcome, whether that be a deal or no-deal, may be achieved by the end of the 2020.
During the negotiations, many issues will be discussed, with perhaps the most pertinent to the healthcare industry including reduced friction trade, mutual recognition of certificates of good manufacturing practice (GMP), clinical trial cooperation, and access to talent—requiring certain allowances for immigrants. While there is still a great deal of uncertainty over many of these issues, the UK Government have already set out their plans for the post-Brexit immigration system.
The biggest change will undoubtedly be the additional layers of complexity that healthcare practices will need to navigate when employing workers from the other side of the Brexit divide.
Under free movement rules, European Economic Area (EEA) nationals working in the UK and UK nationals working in the EEA must be treated in the same way as citizens of that country. From 1 January 2021, the free movement rules will change.
In the UK, EEA nationals will need to hold an appropriate immigration status that enables them to work in the UK. EEA nationals, resident in the UK before 1 January 2021, will be able to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, but those arriving in the UK from that date will need to apply for status that permits them to work. Most people coming to the UK for work will need an employer to sponsor their visa application, although this will only be possible where the role is skilled to level 3 or above on the UK’s Regulated Qualifications Framework (approximately A-Level). This won’t be so much of an issue for EEA nationals coming to fill research, development, technical, and managerial roles in the healthcare sector, but for roles which are classified as lower skilled there are likely to be few if any options. UK nationals who want to work in an EEA country will need to satisfy the immigration requirements of that particular country in the same way that someone from outside of the EEA currently does.
In addition to the administrative hurdles healthcare professionals and EEA nationals will need to overcome, sponsorship and visa applications come at a cost, with fees for UK immigration applications and employer sponsorship running into thousands of pounds.
Another issue will be that business trips by EEA nationals coming to the UK and UK nationals travelling to EEA countries will be governed by the respective immigration rules for visitors. In the UK, this means that some business activities that would have been possible for EEA nationals under free movement rules - such as filling a short-term vacancy and direct selling to the public - will now be prohibited. UK nationals travelling to Schengen zone countries will need to ensure that they adhere to the equivalent visitor rules, including the requirement that they do not spend more than 90 days within a 180-day period in the Schengen zone.
To prepare for these immigration changes, healthcare practices should consider:
A version of this was published in the July issue of PharmaTech.