Status change for migrant workers after Brexit day

12 March 2019

Back in June 2017, UK Prime Minister Theresa May outlined the UK government’s proposal on the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK, after Brexit. She said: “The UK is one of the most tolerant and welcoming places in the world and will remain that way. EU citizens who came to the UK before the EU Referendum, and before the formal Article 50 process for exiting the EU was triggered, came on the basis that they would be able to settle permanently, if they were able to build a life here. We recognise the need to honour that expectation.”

Status change for migrant workers after Brexit day

Until the UK withdraws from the EU, EU law will continue to apply and so the rights of EU citizens and their family members to live and work in the UK, will remain unchanged. However, as we get ever closer to ‘B’ day on 29 March 2019, the current intention is that the UK will no longer be subject to EU law, thereafter - free movement rights will come to an end. From that point on, EU citizens (and their families) in the UK, regardless of when they arrived, will, on the UK’s exit, need to obtain an immigration status in UK law, which they will need to make an application for.

 If you are in business, there may be many reasons why you would seek to, or even need to, employ a person from overseas, particularly in the globalised economy in which we all now live. This could be for any number of purposes, including: 

  • For a job requiring specialist skill (for example, technical or language skills) that is not available in the local labour market;
  • To fill vacancies for jobs in a designated ‘shortage occupation’. This has been applied to nursing care in recent years in Northern Ireland, and there have been a number of visas granted to overseas nurses;
  • To facilitate secondments or transfers from an overseas branch of the same company. US and other foreign companies operating in Northern Ireland will be familiar in particular with seeking overseas staff for this purpose;
  • To fill temporary vacancies requiring a pre-existing skill set, or to fill unskilled or low-skilled vacancies due to labour shortages.

After Brexit, the talk is that the UK will move entirely to a points-based system of immigration control. The UK already operates a points-based system for migrants coming to the UK from outside of the EU. This has been in place since 2008. Under this present points-based system, there are five tiers:

Tier 1               Highly-skilled individuals, entrepreneurs and high net-worth individuals

Tier 2               Skilled workers in a shortage occupation who have a job offer

Tier 3               Low skilled workers for temporary labour shortages (although this Tier has never been used because of the strong labour supply from EU/EEA countries)

Tier 4               Students

Tier 5               Youth mobility and temporary workers: people allowed to work in the UK for a limited period of time to satisfy primarily non-economic objectives.

As its name implies, migrant workers are required to score a certain number of points under the system in order to obtain permission to enter, or remain, in the UK and the points criteria differ for each tier.

Post-Brexit, it is likely that the vast majority of EU nationals who wish to come to work in the UK, would fall within Tiers 2-5 of the points-based system. Thus it will be important for any business who might wish to employ such individuals, post-Brexit, to realise that they may require to apply for a licence to employ them, from the UK Home Office, as such employees will likely require sponsorship by the employer.

At present, only employers registered with and licensed by the Home Office are permitted to issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to a named individual, who must then apply for permission to enter the UK. The employer must have undertaken a strict verification exercise in order to issue a CoS.

Therefore, going into the post-Brexit landscape, all businesses who may wish or have need to employ migrant workers from within the EU (or even outside of it, if they are seeking to do so for the first time) would be best advised to seek legal advice from a skilled immigration law adviser, about what licence might be required. Worthingtons can offer such a service to all business clients.

Brian Moss is a solicitor in Worthingtons Solicitors, Belfast who specialises in immigration law. For legal advice please telephone 028 9043 4015 or email

Newsletter Signup