What is the impact of Brexit on UK employment law for non-EU nationals?

11 June 2024

Brexit has changed the face of UK employment law, particularly affecting non-EU nationals. The transition from the European Union’s free movement system to the UK’s points-based immigration system is far from seamless. What is the effect on the working rights and visas of these workers? As the dust of Brexit continues to settle, the answers to these questions are becoming clearer.

Brexit: A Shift in the Employment Landscape

Brexit, the decision by the UK to leave the European Union, has created a seismic shift in the country's employment landscape. The free movement of labour, a principle that was once a cornerstone of the European Union, has been replaced with a more restrictive, points-based immigration system. This change has significant implications for non-EU nationals working in the UK.

Under the previous system, non-EU workers had a certain level of parity with their EU counterparts. Now, Brexit has introduced a new set of rules that has affected the status of non-EU workers' employment rights. They are no longer subject to EU law, and instead, must navigate the UK's domestic legislation, which is still evolving post-Brexit.

The government's decision to end free movement and introduce a points-based immigration system has been met with mixed reactions. While some see it as a way to control immigration and protect domestic workers, others worry it could lead to a shortage of skilled labour.

Points-based System: The New Normal for Non-EU Nationals

The points-based system is the new normal for non-EU nationals seeking work in the UK. Under this system, individuals must meet certain criteria to be eligible for a visa. This includes proving they have a job offer from a licensed sponsor, that the job is at an appropriate skill level, and that they speak English to a certain level.

There is also the 'points' aspect, which relates to the individual's qualifications, salary, and the sector in which they will be working. Points are awarded based on these factors, with a minimum of 70 needed to be eligible for a visa. This system has been criticised for its complexity and for potentially driving away skilled workers.

This shake-up of immigration law has created uncertainty for non-EU nationals. For those currently living and working in the UK, there are concerns about their ongoing employment rights, while those looking to move to the UK for work face a more difficult and uncertain path.

The Impact on Workers’ Rights

The impact on workers' rights for non-EU nationals post-Brexit is significant. Previously, the rights of these workers were protected under EU law, but now they fall under UK law. The UK government has pledged to protect workers' rights, but there are concerns that Brexit may lead to a dilution of these rights.

The data on employment rights post-Brexit is still being gathered and analysed. What is clear, however, is that the loss of free movement has created a more precarious situation for non-EU nationals working in the UK. The shift to a points-based system has made it more difficult for these workers to secure their legal status, putting them at a higher risk of exploitation.

The pandemic has compounded these issues, with many non-EU nationals working in sectors heavily affected by COVID-19. It remains to be seen how the government will address these challenges and protect the rights and livelihoods of these workers.

The Future: Uncertainty and Adaptation

The future for non-EU nationals working in the UK is uncertain. The points-based system is still in its early stages and it remains to be seen how it will be implemented in practice. There is a steep learning curve, not just for the workers themselves, but also for businesses and the government.

The government's commitment to ensuring that the UK remains an attractive place for skilled workers is crucial. To achieve this, the immigration system must be fair, transparent, and efficient. The challenge lies in balancing the need to control immigration with the need to attract and retain talent.

What is certain is that non-EU nationals will need to adapt to this new reality. Whether this means pursuing different types of visas, improving their skills, or seeking employment elsewhere, Brexit has fundamentally changed the employment landscape for non-EU nationals in the UK.

The Ramifications for Labour Market and Work Visas

The Brexit fallout has indeed affected the labour market and the processing of work visas. The transition period saw a surge in applications for the EU Settlement Scheme, which offers pre-settled or settled status to EU citizens and their families. The scheme allowed eligible individuals to continue living and working in the UK. However, non-EU nationals were not covered by this scheme and had to depend on the regular work visa process.

The new immigration system has created a tiered approach to employment. This means that certain jobs may be harder to fill due to the stricter criteria for visa eligibility. A case in point is the farming industry, which heavily relied on EU labour supply and has been facing challenges post-Brexit.

Work visas have also been affected, with the government introducing the Skilled Worker visa to replace the previous Tier 2 visa. This visa requires a job offer from an approved sponsor, a certain skill level, and a minimum salary threshold. While it opens up opportunities for skilled workers from across the globe, it may also deter some due to its stringent requirements and high fees.

From the perspective of the Migration Observatory, the new system is viewed as a 'one-size-fits-all' approach that fails to consider the unique needs of different sectors. This has caused anxiety among businesses reliant on foreign labour, as they fear the new rules may deter potential talent.

Adapting to the Post-Brexit Employment Law Landscape

The United Kingdom is now in a phase of adapting to the post-Brexit reality. One of the significant changes is the shift from EU employment law to UK employment law for non-EU nationals. This includes areas such as working time regulations and discrimination law, which were previously underpinned by EU directives.

The government has pledged to not only maintain workers' rights but also to improve them. However, concerns persist that these promises may not materialise and that the rights of workers, particularly non-EU nationals, may be diluted.

As we navigate this new landscape, both businesses and workers will need to stay informed about the evolving legislation. Legal specialists will likely play a crucial role in helping individuals and corporations understand and comply with these new laws, ensuring individuals are aware of their rights and employers understand their responsibilities.

While the UK has experienced significant changes in its employment law post-Brexit, the nation remains committed to evolving and adapting. As the dust of Brexit continues to settle, the long-term implications on employment law for non-EU nationals will become clearer. The key will be in how effectively the government and businesses handle this transition, ensuring a fair and balanced approach that respects workers' rights while also addressing economic needs.

Conclusion: Looking Ahead in the Post-Brexit Era

The impact of Brexit on UK employment law, particularly for non-EU nationals, is far-reaching and complex. The transition from free movement to a more restrictive, points-based immigration system has significantly changed how non-EU nationals live and work in the UK.

The new system's complexity and the potential for a decrease in workers' rights have raised concerns about the UK's ability to attract and retain foreign talent. However, the post-Brexit environment also provides opportunities for UK businesses to reevaluate their labour supply chains and for non-EU workers to explore new avenues for entering the UK labour market.

Ultimately, the success of this new system will hinge on the government's ability to balance immigration control with the need for skilled labour. This will require ongoing monitoring, transparency, and a willingness to make adjustments as needed.

Moving forward, it is crucial for non-EU nationals working in the UK to stay informed about their rights and the immigration rules. This is not only vital for their legal status but also for their long-term prospects in the evolving UK labour market. The full impact of Brexit on UK employment law for non-EU nationals may not be fully understood for some time, but what is certain is that the landscape has changed irreversibly.