May 28, 2021

The Shape of Global Mobility Post Brexit

Sterling Lexicon’s recent webinar with BDO, The Impact of Post Brexit and Future Shape of Global Mobility, provided Leanne Cottrell, Sterling Lexicon’s Head of Immigration an opportunity to refresh the narrative on the post-Brexit immigration landscape.

As the successful rollout of vaccination programs across developed nations begins the process of re-energizing economies, global mobility teams need to understand the requirements for U.K. nationals traveling or relocating to a European Union member state or vice versa. With the global health crisis putting many mobility programs into quasi-hibernation, remobilization will inevitably test the system and users of the system. In our interactive webinar, Cottrell summarized the key steps global mobility could be taking to prepare for higher volumes of international assignments and business travelers.

Read on for immigration highlights, or tune into the full webinar.


Prior to the end of the transition period, the U.K. government communicated widely on the changes to the British immigration system which came into effect on January 1, 2021. Teething issues are priced into the implementation of any new immigration system by the vast majority of immigration professionals, however, most have welcomed the efficiency of this rollout which has, on the whole, been plain sailing. Sterner tests could lie ahead, however, as border restrictions ease and pent-up demand confers additional strain on the system.

Positive Change

From a global mobility perspective, one of several positive changes that have arisen from the new system is the removal of the Resident Market Labour Test - a process previously seen by many as administratively burdensome and cumbersome. Cottrell highlights that through the pandemic, governments worldwide have tended to move in the opposite direction, with most seeking to protect their resident labor market in the face of a global economic slump. Whether or not the U.K. holds steadfast with the system in its current form will remain to be seen as the economic recovery takes shape alongside the rollout of vaccines.

Red Flags

The U.K. immigration system requires any EU national coming to the U.K. for work to have a visa, regardless of whether the employee intends to stay for 3 months or 3 years. Unlike systems sometimes found in other countries, it doesn’t provide for work visa exemptions – although some activities in the education or creative sectors can be conducted as month-long permitted paid engagements.

To secure a Skilled Worker or Intra-company visa, an organization needs to have a U.K. sponsoring entity which is licensed by the U.K. government.

Some organizations without such an existing structure have been caught out by this post-Brexit requirement, and are having to create new, or leverage linked entities, such as a client organization, to navigate the system. Global mobility would be well advised to work with stakeholders to look at the business structure and to ensure that it has a clear strategy for managing future mobility into the U.K.

EU nationals are of course permitted to enter the U.K. as visitors. However, permissible activities under this entry type are limited; for example, attending meetings or conducting intra-corporate activities. Limited remote working can be conducted while in the U.K. as a visitor, but it should not be the main purpose of the visit.

With the pandemic suppressing business travel, it is highly likely that many organizations have not fully taken account of the implications of the end of the freedom of movement rights U.K. and EU nationals enjoyed before Brexit and that behaviors may not have changed. As business travel starts up again, Cottrell feels that it is only a matter of time before organizations are caught out, with robust border and work site checks anticipated in the foreseeable future.


Global mobility can assist in ensuring that employers have robust business travel processes in place and that communication is widely and frequently disseminated across the organization.

Finally, Cottrell notes that the settlement scheme for those EU nationals residing in the U.K. will close to the majority of new applications from June 30, 2021.

Future Improvements

In the first quarter of the year, the U.K. government announced its intention to introduce an elite points-based visa by March 2022 to help the U.K. attract and retain the most highly skilled, globally mobile talent. Despite the government having released few details on the visa, it is generally thought to be aimed at the Fintech sector, although other industries with skills shortages are likely to qualify. The category will provide fast-track visas for qualifying applicants. At face value it appears similar in nature to the former Highly Skilled Program which didn’t require sponsorship. We remain hopeful that this opens up the system to less traditional employment structures.

We also expect to see more pragmatic categories refreshed, such as routes to enable the establishment of U.K. businesses and the use of the Global Talent Category which now allows winners of prestigious prizes to skip the requirement to gain endorsement from a governing body.

The new International graduate visa category, due to come into force on July 1, 2021, is a brilliant tool for educational institutions when attracting potential foreign students as well as for organizations recruiting graduate level talent. It can be awarded for a period of 2 or 3 years after graduation and enables an individual to work for whomever they please in any capacity, therefore providing a steppingstone between study and a sponsored work visa.

On the other side of the coin, one change the U.K. government is unlikely to make is the introduction of a remote work visa. Although not a new concept, this visa category - initially designed to support digital nomads - has gained popularity in such countries as Costa Rica, the United Arab Emirates, Mauritius and Croatia as the pandemic has catapulted employees into remote working and has shone a new light on work-life balance. Sadly, San Jose and Southport may not be a comparable lifestyle choice for those who can just work from anywhere!

U.K. nationals entering EU member states

Processing times for British nationals entering the majority of EU member states' work visa streams are typically lengthy, which the pandemic only further delayed.

We are, however, seeing an increasing use of technology with applications, and electronic processing is being implemented in Belgium, Bulgaria and to some extent in France. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst to this pre-pandemic trend of digitalization of immigration services, removing the existent reliance on original documents and in-person processes.

ETIAS scheme

According to the EU, the ETIAS scheme is on track to be fully implemented in 2022. Similar in nature to the U.S. ESTA, the ETIAS is an electronic authorization travel scheme which requires the individual to apply prior to travel. Its implementation is designed to enhance border security and visibility of travelers within the Schengen area.

This has been enhanced by the Entry-Exit System responsible for facilitating automated border control checks and self-service systems, making the process more streamlined for travelers as well as aiding the authorities in detecting document and identity fraud, and identifying individuals over-staying their visa expiry.

Similar to the U.K., the majority of EU member states require a third country national to hold a full work visa, regardless of length of stay if they are working. The visitor route is available to U.K. nationals for a limited scope of activities. The EU-U.K. Trade and Cooperation Agreement broadly outlines permitted activities, but it is up to each member state to interpret them, leaving room for slight divergence between member states. From a global mobility perspective, communication with the business needs to reflect these complexities, and should also account for the organization’s appetite for risk. Increasingly, organizations are turning to business traveler tracking technology to support compliance processes.


With third country nationals permitted to spend 90 days in any 180-day rolling period in the Schengen zone, it is important that organizations have the processes and supporting tools in place to manage a population of business travelers as border restrictions begin to ease over the coming months.

Is compliance enforcement the future?

At the onset of the pandemic, border restrictions and closings saw workers displaced and struggling to get home, and governments initially taking a sympathetic approach. Now that travel is becoming more open and possible, individuals and organizations will be expected to comply with immigration law. Broadly speaking, few governments could be described as proactive in their approach to enforcement, but the digitalization of immigration systems will aid visibility and therefore enhance enforcement capability. Our assessment is that a step-change is required in organizational record keeping and mindset towards immigration compliance to keep pace with the changes on the horizon. Global mobility is ideally positioned to support organizations in identifying and implementing the unique and necessary changes to enable compliant talent mobility in the future.

View the recorded webinar in full, including BDO’s update on the post-Brexit impact to social security and international remote working.

Stuart Jackson

Stuart Jackson

As Account Director at Sterling Lexicon, Stuart focuses on working with clients to optimize their global mobility solutions. Stuart has worked in global mobility for 19 years. His broad experience of working with different program sizes across a variety of industry sectors helps to bring success to clients' programs and wider business strategies. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article or learn more about Sterling Lexicon, please do not hesitate to contact Stuart Jackson at

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