There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the EU referendum taking place this week, not just over the way the UK will vote, but about the effect the possible outcomes will have on the country as a whole. Lucas Blake have suggested that the recruitment industry is likely to be significantly affected if a Brexit vote occurs, given that the free movement of workers is one of the biggest factors influencing the vote – a positive or negative factor, depending on your view.
A vote for Brexit could make it a lot harder for recruiters to find and hire the best talent from EU countries. Currently, British businesses are able to hire employees from within the European Economic Area (this includes all the EU countries, as well as Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein), without needing immigration permission. Leaving the EU could mean that workers from other member states are no longer free to travel to the UK for work, and this may also apply to UK citizens wishing to work in other EU countries.
It is likely however, that the UK would negotiate an agreement with other EU countries in the event of a Brexit. This would involve certain countries agreeing to free movement of workers in exchange for free movement of goods. An agreement such as this would put the UK recruitment industry in a similar situation to that which it is in now, however if this agreement was not made, it would be much more difficult for UK businesses to recruit workers from EU countries.
In the event of a Brexit, Britain would be free to apply its own laws to assess new arrivals, rather than the current EU regulations. This may involve a points-based system, such as that currently applied to non-EU nationals, and employers would remain responsible for checking that their employees were allowed to work in the UK. Another possible effect on recruitment is that workers from other countries may be put off from looking for work in the UK, as a result of the uncertainty about its future and the perceived lack of welcome for workers from the EU.
The UK may find itself in a similar position to Norway, by remaining in the European Economic Area, and still being bound by the EU’s rules on free movement of workers. In this case, recruitment of workers from the EU would remain relatively easy, although the procedures and administrative side of things may become more complicated. If the UK decides to follow in Switzerland’s footsteps on the other hand, the free movement of workers would be more conditional and there would be more restrictions. However, this would depend on whether the EU would be happy to extend this special position to other countries.
Clearly all these changes would take time to be implemented, and agreements would need to be drawn up between countries. It is unlikely therefore that any immediate changes will take place until all the arrangements for the UK’s departure have been decided – which could take many years.