Brexit alongside COVID-19 has created a unique situation in the UK and the EU.
The UK is facing shortages in not only everyday items like fuel and food, but also staff. Alongside this has been the apparent realization of the true need for European workers within UK.
Jemima Johnstone, head of corporate immigration at Gherson Solicitors, tells UNLEASH about the situation of temporary visas and the long-term issues that could be on the horizon for HR teams in UK companies, as well as elsewhere in the world.
Many industries across the world have found that wage is an important factor in attracting migrant workers in the post-pandemic world. This appears to be paramount in the UK’s attempts to attract European talent.
Johnstone explains: “The kind of short-term temporary visas that the government has recently announced are unlikely to offer much appeal to applicants unless the salary they are being offered is so much greater than what they could get in their home country – or in the case of EU nationals, anywhere in the EU – that it’s worth the disruption or the costs of the visa, travel and accommodation.”
One way of making work within the UK more appealing to EU nationals would be “if the temporary route gave applicants a chance to extend or apply for other visas once in the UK, or allowed them to bring family with them.”
However, with a strict expiration for temporary visas, that would see them end on Christmas Eve, Johnstone is sceptical of this kind of offer being put forward by the government.
Johnstone adds that the proposed Christmas Eve deadline is “nonsensical.”
“The visa routes that have been announced are intended to tackle immediate crises through offering a short-term, three-month visa. To be effective they need to be allowing people to enter the UK within the next couple of weeks.
“But most UK visa applications made outside the UK take at least three weeks to be processed unless applicants pay additional fees for priority processing. It can easily take six weeks to obtain visas under some of the UK’s ‘Temporary Worker’ routes.”
On top of that, “the government hasn’t even announced how applicants can apply, or if businesses themselves need to take action,” notes Johnstone.
If the government does not take a substantial step to expedite this process and change existing visa routes, Johnstone warns “there is a real risk that these temporary routes will totally fail to be fit for purpose.”
More issues for the UK
Johnstone notes: “Many businesses are telling us, as immigration advisers, that the situation regarding staff shortages is not sustainable.”
This is on the back of multiple sectors expressing concerns about a severe lack of staff. In fact, this lack of staff has led to rising wages in the UK; this is part of companies’ attempts to tackle the talent exodus head-on.
“The government has repeatedly announced that it is adamant that the solution for most industries facing staff shortages in lower-skilled roles is not immigration, but for businesses to improve pay, conditions, training and career opportunities or introduce greater automation to reduce the requirement for low-skilled labour.
“But these are not short-term solutions, and they require considerable financial investment. That will inevitably lead to increased prices for consumers. That may ultimately mean that UK businesses dependent on a low-skilled, low-paid workforce are priced out of the market, particularly if they face overseas competition,” adds Johnstone.
It is also worth noting that COVID-19 has added an extra layer of difficulty when it comes to freedom of movement for workers.
Johnstone states: “The transition for UK industry from having ready access to a pool of low-skilled workers [from the EU] to having the flow turned off was always going to be a rocky one. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned that rocky road into something more resembling a precipice.
“The existence of a rump of European nationals in the UK, who were able to remain here under the EU Settlement Scheme, has meant to cushion the blow.
“But more of the UK’s existing European population left for home than anticipated because of Covid, and others who might have arrived before the cut-off date were prevented, or at least dissuaded, by the pandemic.”
What can the UK Government do?
In order to improve the current situation, “the government needs to work constructively with industries to see if immigration can support a transition to reducing dependence on a low-skilled and low-paid labour force.
“Otherwise, HR departments who work in international business could face issues, “explains Johnstone.
These challenges are primarily compliance-based, but also include training new employees from the EU in a small time-frame: “Temporary, short-term visas are usually cheaper on the face of it than longer-term work visas. Home Office fees are likely to be c. £300 for a visa that’s for less than 6 months, rather than potentially £3-£5,000 for a three-year visa.
“However, they often bring a disproportionate burden of work for HR departments given the short-term benefit they bring. With the most time-consuming element often being working out what the Home Office needs employers to do and putting in place systems to provide it.
“HR departments also need to factor in the time that may be needed to on-board and train new temporary hires to ensure they bring real benefit to the business.”
Attracting skilled workers
When it comes to hiring a foreign worker who is skilled, Johnstone states: “The first key step is to obtain a Skilled Worker sponsor licence. The licence will last four years and will allow a company to sponsor any number of employees.
“Obtaining a licence standardly takes at least eight weeks, unless the company is lucky enough to obtain one of the limited number of ‘priority slots’ available daily, which can’t be guaranteed.
“That delay risks losing key talent to competitors. Having a licence means that a company can move fast when they identify foreign talent that they need to hire.”
Can tech help companies?
When hiring people remotely, the likes of Remote and OysterHR are offering tech that enables staff to assess compliance and the costs of onboarding in one simple solution. This kind of software allows meetings and assessments to take place remotely.
Additionally, companies such as Veremark enable remote verification checks, to ensure the success of a company’s international onboarding.
In these terms, the process of hiring international candidates is eased, but many will still be concerned about the UK establishing a sustainable and efficient workforce in the post-Brexit and post-pandemic world.