Industry leaders have welcomed a major victory in the battle to lift the “cloud of uncertainty” facing EU workers post-Brexit.
Yesterday the government revealed thousands of workers arriving during the proposed transition period could be able to stay in the UK for good.
Businesses have warned Brexit could have a disastrous impact on companies that rely on a high level of workers from Europe. The FDF has estimated 117,000 EU workers are in the food and drink manufacturing industry alone.
But under new proposals, the government has said EU citizens and their family members would be able to move to the UK during its planned implementation period, “on the same basis as they do today”.
The document said there would be “no new constraints on working or studying in the UK” in the implementation period following the UK’s exit in March 2019, which is expected to last around two years.
Ministers are drawing up a new registration system for EU citizens and their family members who arrive in the UK during the period and choose to stay for more than three months.
They are also drawing up a new framework to enable businesses to access the skills they need, including qualification for EU workers.
However, the document said: “In the meantime, it is important to provide certainty to business and to those EU citizens who wish to move to the UK during the implementation period.”
This will mean EU citizens and their family members who arrive during the implementation period will be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain after five years or a temporary status in UK law that will enable them to stay after the implementation period has ended. EU citizens will also be able to be joined by family members after the implementation period concludes.
The move was welcomed as a big breakthrough by FDF director general Ian Wright, who said: “This provides much-needed clarity both to EU citizens working in the food and drink manufacturing industry, and businesses planning their future workforce needs.
“We were the first trade association to call for the right to remain following the referendum and have consistently made the case to ministers and officials, in the UK and EU.
“We employ 117,000 highly valued EU workers within the food and drink sector and they play a vital role in guaranteeing the success of the £112bn ‘farm to fork’ food chain.
“Since the referendum, EU workers in the UK have lived under a cloud of uncertainty. This announcement will provide clarity for them and their families, and help businesses make decisions in relation to the future of their workforce.
“The government must now move swiftly to provide clear guidance to workers and businesses, establishing a simple registration system that allows those EU citizens arriving in the UK during this period to apply for permanent residency.”
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: “Business will be pleased that during a time of record-high labour shortages, the government is showing a pragmatic approach to immigration.”