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Articles Employment 9th May 2018

Recruitment And Planning For Brexit – Food Sector

Planning For Your Workforce Post Brexit

Employers in the agriculture, food production and food wholesale sectors are concerned about how they will recruit workers post Brexit. There are currently a significant number of EEA workers employed in the sector but the number wanting to come and work in the UK is falling as the devaluation of the pound has made the UK a less attractive destination and there is uncertainty about the post-Brexit future.

The EU free movement provisions have allowed British employers to recruit EEA nationals without cost or administrative burden; the position post Brexit is not clear.

EEA Nationals Who Are Already In The UK

We know that:

  • EEA nationals and their families who have been in the UK lawfully for 5 years will be able to apply for settled status. EEA nationals and their families who have not been in the UK for 5 years but are in the UK lawfully on the date we leave the European Union will be able to apply for temporary residence. They will then be able to apply for settled status once they have been here for 5 years.

If an individual has settled status they will be able to reside freely and work in the UK.

Restrictions On EEA Workers Post Brexit

It is likely that some restrictions on EEA workers will be imposed post Brexit. One suggestion is that there will be provision for both highly skilled and lower skilled workers to come to the UK from the European Union but that lower skilled workers will have limited rights to stay. We do know that the current system for recruiting non-EEA workers is a points-based system which is costly for employers.

Non EEA Workers

The current system for recruiting from outside the EEA is much more complex and costly for employers than recruiting from within the EEA. Provision is currently under Tier 2 which only provides for recruitment into graduate level roles. Many roles within the food sector would fall below graduate level.

Tier 3 of the Points Based System does provide for the employment of lower skilled workers – such as agricultural workers or those employed in food production and factory work. This tier has never been opened by the government, meaning that it is not currently possible for workers from outside the EEA to obtain a visa work in lower skilled roles in the UK.

As there is no clear post Brexit policy yet for EEA workers it is very difficult for employers to budget for future recruitment costs, but it is hoped that the new system will not be based on the current non-EEA points based system. The Government needs to recognise how vital European recruitment is for the food sector and ensure that the new system will not burden business with red tape and yet more cost. Employers will be keen to keep up to date with developments in immigration policy as soon as these are announced.

How Can Businesses Retain Their European Workforce?

In the context of reduced numbers of EEA national workers and uncertainty about a future immigration system, many businesses in the food sector are considering how they can best support their existing European workers to ensure that they choose to stay in the UK in employment with their current employer after Brexit. Many businesses have been supporting their staff by offering up to date Brexit briefings, subsidised permanent residence applications and on site workshops and seminars. Provision of this specialist support has been exceptionally well received and have helped businesses to retain key employees and have fostered a culture of HR proactivity and support for European staff.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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