A farmer's guide to the EU Settlement Scheme and Skilled Worker visas

As deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme looms, this tailored guide outlines the key information and practical steps for agricultrual employers hiring European workers.

14 June 2021

Free movement of workers from the European Economic Area (EEA) was ended by Brexit and the UK Government introduced the EU Settlement Scheme to bridge the gap between the UK’s two immigrations systems of those coming from the EEA, and those coming to the UK from outwith the EEEA. The EU Settlement Scheme is a mechanism for any EEA citizen who lived in the UK before 31 December 2020 to remain lawfully in the UK.

Anyone who has not yet applied to that scheme still has time to do so, but they must show that they have lived continuously in the UK since a date prior to 31 December 2020.

EEA citizens must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021.

Unless there is a good reason for failing to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme in time, EEA citizens will potentially lose the ability to remain in the UK.

Nothing changes for employers in relation to existing workers, though employers should remind any potentially eligible EEA staff that the scheme is closing on 30 June and they need to get their applications in before that date if they want to take advantage of it.

The “new” points-based system (PBS) is a re-branding of the existing PBS, a system that has been in place in the UK since 2008. However, what is “new” is that, due to the end of free movement, employers now have to use the PBS to employ both EEA and non-EEA citizens as opposed to being able to use free movement to employ EEA nationals.

A sponsor in the context of UK immigration is an organisation that holds a licence issued by the Home Office enabling it to employ international staff. All types of entities can hold sponsor licences – so they can be held by a partnership, sole trader, private limited company etc.

How does a farmer become a sponsor employer?

Agricultural employers can become sponsors by making an online application through a UK Government portal.  

The agricultural employer would have to provide evidence to demonstrate that their business is genuine and trading. They also have to disclose if they have already identified someone who is going to be sponsored and provide a hierarchy chart and operating hours.

Employers are being asked to play an immigration gate-keeper role, and this is reflected in the responsibilities that farming businesses sign up to when they apply for a sponsor licence. At the point of submission the Authorising Officer - the person in the business considered to be the most senior person responsible for staff - must declare that they will adhere to their sponsor duties.

The sponsorship visa that applies to agricultural workers is a Skilled Worker visa - this is a visa that is used for permanent employees. Previously, sponsorship was confined to roles that were considered to be UK degree-level. Under the new system, the so-called Skills Threshold has been lowered and includes roles such as “herd manager” and “agricultural contractor”.

There are, of course, cost implications for the employer and obligations to comply with in relation to holding of a sponsor status. The agricultural employer sponsor is obliged to advise the Home Office when a sponsored employee leaves. 

If agricultural employers have EEA citizen workers who are due to travel in to the UK for seasonal work, these workers must ensure they have applied to the scheme. For more information on the EU Settlement Scheme, and the requirements of employers as sponsors, please contact Jacqueline Moore or John Vassiliou.