Employers may have to check whether EU citizens have the right to work in the UK if there is a no-deal Brexit, the immigration minister disclosed yesterday.
Caroline Nokes admitted, however, that firms would not be able to differentiate between EU citizens who are new arrivals and those who have been in the country for years with a right to work and the entitlement to stay.
The government wants the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens in Britain to apply for settled status so that they can continue to live and work here but that will not happen by the time Britain is due to leave the bloc next March.
“If somebody has been through the settled status scheme they would be able to evidence that,” she said. “If somebody hasn’t been here prior to the end of March next year, employers will have to make sure they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody’s right to work.
“It would pose a challenge to government and indeed employers in differentiating between those two groups of people.”
In a difficult evidence session at the home affairs select committee, Ms Nokes was repeatedly asked what the checks would be. She offered to clear up any confusion in a letter to the committee.
The immigration minister said that an immigration bill would “turn off free movement” once Brexit happened and remove the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in Britain. Ms Nokes added that in the event of no deal new immigration controls would apply to EU citizens arriving in the UK next year.
She said that determining people’s status would be tricky during the planned two-year transition period, whether or not a deal was agreed. Even if there is no deal, EU citizens will still have until March 2021 to apply for settled status.
Mike Spicer, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that the issue of checks was a source of serious concern for companies. “Businesses can’t plan on the basis of warm words; they need to see written in black and white directions from the government about how exactly this scheme will operate.”
Satbir Singh, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “Employers [have been told to] check EU nationals’ ‘paperwork’ to determine their right to work after Brexit, despite the fact that no such paperwork exists.”