Employers need to know the immigration status of their non-UK employees and help those likely to be affected with access to legal experts to ensure they can make informed decisions before a Brexit skills shortage becomes a reality.
With Scotland’s technology sector already facing a skills shortage, the uncertainty being caused by the UK leaving the European Union poses a threat to all businesses which rely on access to skilled EU nationals.
Scotland’s digital technologies industry contributes £5 billion in GVA annually and some 91,000 people are employed in digital technologies roles across the economy.
In a recent survey 75% of ScotlandIS members stated that Brexit would have a negative or very negative impact on their ability to recruit staff with the right skills, with over 11% of employees in Scotland’s software and IT sectors accounted for by non-UK EU nationals.
In the latest of a series of briefings, focused on the issues around Brexit, ScotlandIS, in partnership with legal experts, Brodies LLP, is providing advice on the rights of non-UK EU nationals and recommendations for steps that companies can take to support employees wishing to protect their residency rights post-Brexit.
Svea Miesch, research and policy manager at ScotlandIS, says: “Understandably the future status and rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK is a subject of particular importance and concern for our members. Many of Scotland’s digital technologies companies employ staff from other EU countries, but that is not the only issue. We have companies that are owned by non-UK EU nationals, and EU students studying at Scottish universities are an important source of future talent for our industry.
“It’s important to note that nothing will change until at least March 2019 when the UK leaves the EU. Until then, the UK has to guarantee freedom of movement for citizens of other EU countries. In the meantime, employers can take a number of practical steps to try and retain their staff from EU countries beyond Brexit.”
Lynne Marr, an employment law specialist and Partner at Brodies LLP, recommends starting with an overview of the immigration status of all employees.
She says: “No immigration procedures have been necessary for most EU nationals so far (other than the usual right to work checks carried out for all employees at the start of employment). That means many employers do not have this information to hand. Employers will need this information to assess the potential impact on their business if non-UK EU nationals amongst their staff leave the country post-Brexit or if additional immigration controls make them more difficult to employ in the future.
“Companies that employ several EU nationals might also want to organise a session with an immigration law expert to provide their staff with objective information on their options. Some employers are already going further and offering staff access to an immigration expert for face-to-face session to discuss their specific circumstances or even financial support, such as staff loans, for those who seeking more comprehensive legal advice. These steps can provide reassurance to staff who are unsettled by the current uncertainty about the future deal between the UK and EU.”
“There are plans for the UK Government to bring forward an Immigration Bill setting out a framework for a new immigration system. Different options are being discussed and it is possible that a whole new system for EU and non-EU citizens could be designed.”
ScotlandIS is currently developing proposals for a future immigration system that would serve the needs of Scotland’s digital technologies industry and allow businesses to continue to thrive.
Svea Miesch says: “We are keen to hear from our members and others in the business community with suggestions and experiences of hiring and retaining international talent in Scotland’s digital economy.”