The government has confirmed that free movement will continue until the last date of the post-Brexit transition period (31 December 2020). Additionally, EU citizens who have been residing in the UK for a period of five years by this date will be eligible for “settled status”. EU citizens who have not met this five-year threshold should be eligible for “pre-settled status”, which can be converted to settled status after they do meet the requirement.
Proposals beyond 31 December 2020 are yet to be announced. There is every chance that the recruitment of EU nationals will be governed by the general points-based system for sponsoring migrant workers.
However, there is a monthly allocation limit on the number of certificates of sponsorship available and the huge increase in the number of requests has led to a higher points threshold that needs to be reached before an application can be approved. This means that only prioritised applications, eg those with salaries over £55,000, PhD level roles and those on the shortage occupation list, will be approved. Many veterinary roles will not fit into any of these categories and this will certainly cause difficulty post-Brexit when attempting to recruit EU workers. Calls by the BVA for veterinary roles to be included in the shortage occupation list have fallen on deaf ears.
In summer, there was a glimmer of hope when the government announced that from 6 July 2018, doctors and nurses will be excluded from the annual quota of restricted certificates of sponsorship. Unfortunately, veterinary surgeons and nurses are not covered by this rule change, but they may still benefit from the greater number of restricted certificates of sponsorship that will be available for those roles that sit outside the NHS.
Evidently, the veterinary workforce is likely to suffer significantly post-Brexit. Therefore, it is important that steps are taken now to both retain existing EU staff and recruit EU nationals while we are still able to benefit from free movement.