The ongoing Brexit negotiations are causing high levels of uncertainty from employers about what exactly is going to happen once the UK leaves the EU. In fact, it’s still not very clear that we will be leaving the EU, and if we do leave, whether it will be with a deal or without a deal. It’s all very confusing. However, there has been some guidance from the government about the issue of right to work checks, which should go some way to reassuring employers.

No Changes Until 2021

The most recent information released by the UK government states that there will be no change in the way citizens of the EEA have to prove their identity until 1st January 2021. This will apply even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Although we talk mostly about the UK leaving the European Union, it’s the European Economic Area, or EEA which applies in this case. The EEA is made up of all the countries which are in the European Union, plus Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. These three countries sit outside the EU, but are part of the wider customs union.

New Responsibilities

The government is clear on what employer responsibilities will be in the event of Brexit and in any transition period which follows. Current identity verification laws will remain unchanged. That means that companies will still be fined if they are caught employing illegal workers, so managers and recruiters still have the job of asking for passports and checking that the person in front of them matches the official identification provided. That is the process whether the applicant is British, from a European country or from further afield.

The new clarification puts employers’ minds at rest about what happens to workers who lose their right to be in the UK at the end of their employment. Up to 1st January 2021, employers will not have to go back and check on the immigration status of any EEA national since the date of any Brexit, and they won’t have to check that the person intends to leave the UK if they no longer have the right to be here. The government also reiterates the need to keep high quality records about identity verification. Most employers take photocopies of passports, and these should be kept for 2 years after the employee concerned has left the job.

Temporary Leave to Remain

The government also intends to create a temporary status for EU and EEA residents who arrive in the UK between the Brexit date and 1st January 2021 to apply for temporary leave to stay in the UK, work and apply for whatever other paperwork they need to legitimise their stay. However, this arrangement is bound to form a key part of the Brexit negotiations should the government go back to Brussels and try to get a better or different deal. So although the government currently gives the above advice to employers about identity verification, there’s every chance that we may see further changes in the New Year.