WERC London Summit 2017: Immigration – moving with the times

With ongoing uncertainty around Brexit, and now President Trump’s evolving views on immigration, Charlotte Slocombe, US attorney at global immigration partners, Fragomen, spoke to 'Re:locate' to discuss how to manage the flux.

Union flag and EU flag
Mobility is a complicated world. And just as we felt it couldn’t get any more nuanced, fluid and uncertain, along came Brexit, then President Donald Trump’s US administration. What steps can mobility professionals take to manage the uncertainty and in preparation for a world post-EU membership in the UK?

Speaking ahead of the Worldwide ERC session she jointly presented with fellow partner at Fragomen and UK immigration expert Ian Robinson, US immigration specialist Charlotte Slocombe explained to Re:locate how she sees companies responding to current events.

Different approaches

“What I can see from supporting our clients is that, as we would expect, different clients have different strategies to dealing with the changes in immigration,” she observes.

“One of these is disseminating information and signposting individuals to get the help they need. This is really important. There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about what Brexit might mean now and in the future. Talking to people helps to clear up any confusion and calms people’s worries.

“Obviously, so much is unknown at the moment in relation to Brexit and it is all crystal-ball gazing,” continues Charlotte Slocombe. “But it just about communicating that and working with what we do know. We will continue to work very closely with governments and the relevant authorities to find the answers for our clients to give them the transparency they need.”

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Picking a path through the uncertainties

Other employers are going one stage further and offering financial and other support for the naturalisation process.

“Where companies sit on this issue depends on whether they regard immigration support as something that is personal," says Charlotte Slocombe. “Or, if they regard it as a benefit of the employment relationship. It really comes down to the question of how involved a company wants to be.

“From an individual perspective, if a company employs EU nationals and HR and mobility practitioners are being asked for advice, I would certainly say the first step is to encourage EU nationals working in the UK for five or more years to start gathering proof of that so that they can apply for indefinite leave to remain ahead of the UK leaving the EU.”

Lessons from developments in the US

For the time being, nobody can know very much about the position of EU nationals – or their UK-born children – in the UK until Article 50 is triggered and negotiations begin.

However, we are getting a taster from the US of the need to adapt to dynamic situations affecting people’s everyday work and family lives with President Trump’s executive order to close its borders to passport holders from certain countries.

“From the US perspective, which is my area of expertise as a US attorney, even though we have the information, there remains lots of uncertainty and grey areas in what is a very fast-changing situation,” explains Charlotte.

“To give you an idea of how fast, I was preparing slides for a webinar on the impact of the changes a few weeks ago when the changes hit. Every time I thought I had finalised them and that I could demystify this vaguely worded executive order, how border controls were interpreting them changed again.

“US Government inter-agency interpretation can be issue. Here we had variances in the way the executive order was being interpreted in practice. What created the most confusion was the situation for dual nationals and Green Card holders, who were later exempted.

“Again, for us at Fragomen and our clients, it all comes down to keeping up to date and clarifying what changes mean so individuals and employers remain informed.”

Moving forward with a consultative approach

Taking forward the learning from the impact of President’s Trump’s edict, and in the context of preparation for Brexit, Fragomen has published research that suggests the benefits of a more strategic approach to immigration.

Of the 140 companies it surveyed last year, many in the fast-moving and competitive financial and technology sector, Fragomen found over half have yet to take stock of what Brexit means for their workforce. This is despite a similar figure saying EU nationals are vital to their workforce.

As well as communicating and encouraging EU nationals to think about how they can prove their residency, Fragomen suggests employers concerned about Brexit and other changes to immigration could begin by auditing their workforce, then developing a budgeted plan for supporting employees in the way they choose.

“Immigration expertise is moving from the transactional to the consultative,” says Charlotte Slocombe. “Of course, Brexit has a much wider impact than just on immigration in terms of skills and where companies decide to business. With this in mind, we are  partnering with clients, within the realms of data protection and confidentiality, to advise and support them in getting prepared for the way ahead."

For more of the latest immigration news and features, visit Re:locate's immigration section.

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