The food and drink sector employ a significant number of EU workers (on both a temporary and permanent basis). It has recently been reported by the Food and Drink Sector Council that up to 28% of employees within food and drink manufacturing are EEA nationals - this is a significant figure and Brexit is likely to impact the availability of this source of labour, particularly in relation to lower-skilled roles.

Following the election result at the end of 2019, the UK now has a majority Conservative government. This therefore means that the immigration policies outlined by the Conservatives during the election campaign may well come to fruition. The Migration Advisory Committee ('MAC') has also recently published its report on the UK's future immigration system. One of the most significant changes we anticipate over this year is the UK's exit from the EU. This will have ramifications for employers who rely on EU workers within their workforce and such employers should ensure that they are aware of the changes due to come in to force.

Sector specific sponsorship to be added to Points-Based System

The Withdrawal Agreement has recently been passed by Parliament and is the mechanism for the UK leaving the EU. Given this, it is important for employers in the food and drink sector to be aware that the transitional arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement which allow EU nationals to come to the UK in much the same way as they do now, will end on the 31st December 2020. While those EU nationals who come to the UK before this date should be able to remain in the UK after Brexit if they apply through the settlement scheme, EU nationals who arrive from 1 January 2021 will be subject to the 'new' points-based system (which the government is currently consulting on). This means that employers who recruit a significant number of EU nationals should be planning any recruitment with that in mind.

The current points-based system covers 'highly skilled roles' (i.e. graduate level or above) and requires a minimum salary of at least £30,000 to attract sponsorship. While the MAC have suggested some minor changes to the system in place (such as reduction in the minimum salary), it has not recommended that there will be an entire overhaul of the current system in place. Going forward the systemis likely to cover medium skilled jobs, but it is expected it would still be subject to minimum salary level (anticipated to be £25,600). There are also significant costs applicable to sponsorship including visa fee's, the Immigration Skills Charge and the Immigration Health Surcharge. It will be important to understand the limits and costs of the new rules to plan for any recruitment.

Following their election win at the end of 2019, the Conservative Government announced to the press that it would be introducing a new 'Sector-specific rules-based' category as part of the new points-based system to be introduced from 1 January 2021. The Government has stated that this will comprise temporary schemes, such as those designed for low-skilled labour. The Government has also stated that visas under this category will be time-limited and will not lead to settlement for the individual. The appeal of this new system to EU Nationals looking to relocate to the UK is therefore unclear at the moment.

Key Dates

  • 31st January 2020 - UK leaves the EU under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement
  • 31st December 2020 - The Transition Period agreed under the Withdrawal. Agreement will come to an end as well as the end of the free movement arrangements for EEA and Swiss Nationals.
  • 1st January 2021 - The new points-based system is expected to come in to force.

If you would like to discuss anything raised in this blog, please get in touch with Elaine McIlroy or Lynne Marr.