Even in the midst of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK government is still saying that the UK will fully leave the EU on 31 December 2020. The consequence of this is that free movement of EEA workers to the UK will finish at the end of the year. From the beginning of 2021, all EEA nationals will require immigration permission to work in the UK.
Therefore, UK companies that wish to employ skilled EEA nationals after 1 January 2021, who do not have immigration permission to work in the UK, will have to sponsor them under Tier 2 of the points-based system. This involves the company obtaining a sponsor licence from the Home Office.
Normally, the Home Office will only grant an employer a licence to sponsor migrant workers if: it can show that it has a specific vacancy to fill; that there are no suitably qualified workers available who satisfy the requirements of the role; and the employer has identified a (currently) non-EEA migrant to undertake the position.
However, with the end of the Brexit transition period looming at the end of the year, the Home Office has relaxed its position and is now saying that if an employer can show that it will be able to offer genuine employment skilled to level RQF3 or above, it can apply for a sponsor licence now even if it does not currently have a vacancy which it is looking to fill with a migrant worker.
Although this may not be high on everyone's agenda, with many employers currently furloughing employees, if the UK government does continue with its stated policy to not extend the EU transition period, employers who normally rely on the ability to hire EEA workers will need to think about applying for a sponsor licence. If they do not do this soon, they are likely to be caught up in the inevitable last minute rush of applications at the end of the year, with the consequence that there may be a delay in their ability to hire EEA workers at the beginning of 2021.