7 Months Post-Brexit: How to Prepare for the Second Half of 2021

August 5, 2021

You know that old saying, ‘breaking up is hard to do’? That sentiment certainly applies to the UK officially leaving the EU on 1 January 2021. Employers have been faced with countless changes, the possibility of travellers being detained at the border, and new regulations to learn and implement.

But there’s another old saying, ‘when one door closes another door opens’.

We sat down with Ray Rackham, Managing Director UK for CIBTvisas and Newland Chase, to discuss the current status of business travel and immigration seven months after Brexit and the opportunities that it is creating for employers to reimagine their programmes. This is the first of a two-part interview; the second instalment will be shared later this month.

Q: What are the biggest business travel and immigration challenges employers are facing?

Ray: The business travel and immigration challenges employers are facing are very much variations on a theme. The end of Freedom of Movement between the UK and the EU is a significant moment in the history of international relations between not only the UK and EU, but also the UK and the individual member states.

The movement of persons is one of the fundamental building blocks upon which the EU as we now know it was established, and removing that as a concept might pose issues for all manner of international travellers. Those travelling for one day of business may well face similar compliance issues to those changing their country of work for a limited period of time on assignment, or those intending to relocate for the rest of their lives.

In respect of business travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly decreased the travel programmes of most international organisations. The immediate impact, therefore, of unpicking forty years of Freedom of Movement has been much less of a pain point that it would otherwise had been, at least in the first seven months of a post-Brexit landscape.

But, as we see the fledgling return and renewal of the business activities that we used to do before the pandemic, so too will international travel return – at that point, I believe employers are going to feel the impact of the introduction of immigration requirements across the UK/EU travel lanes with a sharper focus. Business travellers might not be prepared for the changes in rules, particularly around what they can and cannot do as a visitor in a country that, prior to this pause of travel, they had visited regularly without restriction.

Employers have had to reconsider recruitment operations, navigate changing requirements for their existing employee population under the Withdrawal Agreement, and prepare for right to work administrative changes that came into force in the middle of this year, six full months after Brexit day. The undoing of Freedom of Movement, the temporary nature of some of the transition provisions, and the inclusion of an entirely new employee population into established onboarding processes are challenge enough, without thinking of the compliance headaches a new travel population could undoubtedly bring.

Q: How can employers prepare their business travel and global mobility programmes for the last half of the year and beyond?

Ray: What excites me most is that the challenges I mentioned earlier are also incredibly enabling for employers and individual business travellers. The issues employers are facing now create opportunities to rethink and reinvent their immigration and cross border policies in a way they have never had to before.

EU nationals being subject to immigration rules applicable to visitors and workers represents a marked shift in the working culture of European operations, highlighting a need for greater education across the workforce and scrutiny of intra-office traffic across the EU. Necessity can really be the greatest form of invention in the second half of 2021, as employers in the UK and across the EU reconfigure their migratory operating models to put themselves in the best position to manoeuvre with agility on the other side of the pandemic – and in a post-Brexit world.

The immigration footprint of an organisation really is a complex and multifaceted ecosystem and Brexit is the greatest example of a sea-change in public policy that affects all of the migrant workers within it. Addressing how your migratory ecosystem works, at this pivotal moment of history, is an absolute opportunity for organisational growth.

At HSBC, where I spent many years as the Head of Global Borders and Immigration, the people movement consequences of Brexit fell under my leadership from before the 2016 referendum until I joined Newland Chase.

I took the view that the response should follow three core principles:

  • Plan – look to previous travel trends to identify the affected population;
  • Allocate – funds for increased costs as a result of an increase migrant worker population in the UK and across the EU; and
  • Educate – both the business and employees on how Brexit will impact their travel strategies.

All of this whilst also wrapping our arms around the employees who would have to regularise or register their existing working and living arrangements in any of the affected countries.

It will come as no surprise that I will suggest it is critical to have a trusted advisor ready to support and underpin the mobility transformation employers will need to take in responding to the complex and fast-changing nature of Brexit. Employers should look at their business travel programs and develop processes around proposed business activities to ensure compliance with immigration rules. That itself can seem like quite a daunting prospect. I am very excited that Newland Chase has launched a solution that assists companies that have extensive plans for business travel as the world begins to reopen.

Our Brexit Research projects work collaboratively with our clients to best serve their strategic travel and mobility needs, from a variety of different industries and sectors, and not purely in the traditional business visitor sphere. The people movement impact is expansive and all encompassing; and being prepared for change is critical.

With the complex, fast-changing nature of immigration regulations and their considerable impact on employers, it is critical to have a trusted advisor by your side. Newland Chase stands ready to support you and your travel programme. Contact your dedicated Client Services Manager today for more information. Don’t have a Client Services Manager? Contact us.

This publication is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are reminded that immigration laws are subject to change. We are not responsible for any loss arising from reliance on this publication. Please contact CIBTvisas or Newland Chase should you require any additional clarification or case specific advice.