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So long farewell auf wiedersehen goodbye

At 23h today GMT, midnight CET, Great Britain and Northern Ireland leave the EU
Now that the separation is over and the divorce papers are signed, assets have been divided and we’ve spent a couple of Saturday’s in Ikea virtual hell buying those missing soft furnishings, let’s take a moment to check on some areas where we’ll see some change from the talent perspective.

There is remarkably little – probably more accurate to say nothing – written about labour in the 1,200 page Withdrawal agreement, but here’s our prognosis:

Rights to work:
The bad news is that it’s back to those pesky work visas of 30 years ago I’m afraid. As with most areas of the Deal, give or take a few stroppy ministerial employees and state idiosyncrasies, it’s reciprocal. At ExecutiveSurf we’re mainly concerned with skilled workers and it’s fair to say there are very few countries in the world anywhere that don’t welcome skilled workers with open arms. If you think you’re a skilled worker and are hoping to come and work in the UK after next week, nothing changes. You have until July 1st 20121 to get your paperwork in order. After that date, you’ll need decent English, a job offer of over £25,600 from a Home Office registered ’sponsor’ company besides having one of a long list of Home Office approved ’skills’. The minimum salary figure actually reduces to £20,480 if your skill belongs to the ’shortage occupation’ category. Bear in mind that the median graduate salary in the UK was over £30,000 in 2019.
One trend we will see over the next twelve months is the list of ’shortage occupations’ will inevitably grow. And one trend we have seen over the last twelve months is that the Home Office has become more relaxed about awarding ’sponsorship’ licences to employers. Which isn’t that difficult really coming as they were off their peak ‘hostile environment’ policy of a few years back.
Which is all good news. EU multinationals looking to transfer workers into the UK will need to pay them an annual salary of at least £41,500 and will need to show evidence that they’ve been employed within their company overseas for at least a year unless they’re being offered around a £74,000 salary.
The bottom line is that if your mind is set on it, as an EU national, you’ll find a way and as a skilled Brit looking to move to the EU, the same applies.

That’s the law, but can I be bothered?
There was a noticeable drain of settled EU citizens who left the UK since the Vote. The feeling was along the lines of “…for years I’ve paid my taxes, contributed to society, embraced your culture, now I feel you don’t want me any more”. The trend was backed up by the stats but could hardly be defined as an exodus. For the majority, EU citizens feel as loved (or unloved) as they ever did and are just getting on with sorting out their ’settled status’ paperwork. A bigger question is whether that feeling pervades to would-be immigrants. Where the UK has for decades been seen as a go-to location for young EU’s (albeit more southern and Eastern than Northern and Western EU’s) with an Instagram smattering of English, an appetite for work to fund an active social life for a couple of years, that particular rite of passage seems to be declining. For the higher paid executives on the other hand, this is absolutely not a factor. The UK and London especially are still seen as prime destinations for career advancement and meritocracy. London’s reputation as a prohibitively expensive place to work is also a little tired. Britain’s exit from the Erasmus program will also do further harm to the concept of cultural exchange which fosters – or fostered – a desire to build a future life and career over here and over there. More’s the pity.

And then there’s Covid…
Who’s to say if the trends we’ve seen are anything other than the result of Covid? Gap years were nipped cruelly in the bud, as were intra-company transfers, Erasmus exchanges and life moves. Because we were all forced to stay at home. Literally. One trend that is here to stay that was given a wild-eyed steroid boost by Covid, is the arrival of the distributed/ virtual job. The idea is; if you have the skills and can fit pretty much into our workday schedule ie +/- 3 hours time difference. If you’re prepared to work free-lance and take care of your own local taxes and insurance and you have a good broadband connection, then I really don’t care where you’re based. The EEC was founded on the principle of free movement of goods, labour and capital. The ‘labour’ bit of this will do what it damned well wants regardless of what Brussels or Westminster says. For our Millennial talent pool, the question is no longer whether I can get that gig and do it remotely (the answer is increasingly yes). The question for our young Brit looking to work remotely from EU-land or vice versa is; what are the rules for them? The answer is incomplete and patchy. For the most part it seems to be a kind of de facto let’s wait and see although early indications show countries such as Greece and Portugal are continuing to present their hospitable faces, whereas the likes of Britain and France are doing their sharp intake of breath posturing ‘don’t know about that sonny’ thing.

Time will indeed tell but hopefully, once the dust has settled, we’ll be able to have civilised conversations with one another again. Or as civilised as we did when we were married at least…!

ExecutiveSurf is a ‘no-frills’ head-hunting firm that helps multinational clients navigate the cultural challenges of talent markets around the world. We have a small office in London alone but our multiple nationality colleagues are distributed everywhere and anywhere.
Rod Bailey is joint CEO at ExecutiveSurf and a committed internationalist. With a now defunct degree in European Community Studies, how could he not be…

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