Event Summary: Session 3 - Working Internationally Amidst Covid-19 and Brexit
K2 have been running a series of webinars, where we discuss the latest updates that we are experiencing concerning Brexit, Covid-19, international travel and everything in between.
Session 3 Summary
For this session, updates were provided by the following K2 subject matter experts:
- Rob Lamb, European Commercial Coordinator and K2 Brexit Preparedness Lead
- Gavin Carruthers, Client Account Manager
- Deborah Murphy, Advisory Services Consultant
- Jesper Albrekt, Global Immigration Manager
- Simon Higson and Sandra Toppin, UK Immigration Managers
The session was facilitated by Huw Thomas, UK Business Development Manager,
Jo Wakeham, Group Managing Director at K2, provided the attendees with a warm welcome and gave an update, outlining the K2 Brexit taskforce that has been running throughout this year to ensure we are ready for Brexit. Jo explained that as part of this project, K2 has recently created a specialist role of Brexit Preparedness Lead , to ensure that all moves have an extra level of strategic and tactical oversight, during this time.
Rob Lamb gave an update on shipping and current / potential challenges. Rob explained that we do not know the outcome of Brexit (i.e. whether we have a deal or not) and we are currently preparing for a no deal, which would mean a customs procedure would likely be introduced from 1st January.
If this is the case, we anticipate assignees coming into the UK will need to secure a TOR (Transfer of Residence) number before any goods can come in from Europe. Rob highlighted that we are hoping for a definite decision on a deal or no deal by w/c 7th December, but this is not guaranteed.
Rob noted that January 2021 may be a challenging time at the UK and European ports, as we are expecting delays due to changes being made and increases in paperwork/documentation required at borders.
Interestingly, French customs recently carried out two hour checks as a test in Calais, which caused an 8 hour delay at Dover port, which perhaps is an example of what we can expect in January.
In addition to this, Rob highlighted how ports globally are incredibly busy and this is causing some backlog. This includes but not limited to, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Felixstowe, London Gateway, Southampton, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. This is due to the knock on effect from Covid-19, and the lack of critical resources, plus priority given to PPE stock shipments.
We also have the upcoming seasonal holidays, and Chinese New Year on 12th February 2021. So we anticipate ports and customs will remain under pressure. As such short term storage may need to be applied if a backlog situation arises.
However Rob reassured the audience that K2 are closely monitoring all shipments in and out of the UK through to February 2021. As designated Brexit Preparedness Lead, with the help of K2’s network of vendors, Rob will looking at when vehicles will be travelling across the EU and into the UK to make sure that we are minimising congestion where possible. For example, no crews will head to port on a Friday, and instead will travel on a Tuesday, to avoid congestion. Rob will be working closely with UK and EU vendors to make sure everyone is fully prepared and have the right documentation.
Finally Rob noted all of our European and UK vendors are able to carry out removals under ongoing Covid-19 constraints and challenges. With emphasis on the health and wellbeing of all parties, the crews always wear masks, social distance and clean regularly. A sensible approach is taken on the day of the pack/delivery and it is common that families leave the home when the crew are present,
Gavin Carruthers, provided a view of what we are seeing from an Account Management perspective, and also some insights from our destination service providers and partners from across Europe.
Gavin highlighted how Account Management support has changed this year due to Covid-19, as they are unable to meet in person or support face to face, but explained the team continue to provide customer focussed support and solutions virtually.
From a destination services perspective, Gavin advised how the K2 partner network is still fully operational, and K2 continue to stay in close contact with our partner network and operations team to get real time updates .
Gavin outlined the key impacts that we are seeing from clients and assignees across Europe. For example, we are seeing that some assignees are not adhering to the 14 day isolation period, and this can have a knock on effect on being able to secure accommodation, paying fines etc.
Gavin highlighted; how we are seeing an increase in virtual orientations and home searches, we are seeing a reduction in available accommodation as less people are moving, however an increase in one bedroom apartments available due to lack of foreign students into cities, and a general trend of assignees looking for larger properties as they plan to be working from home. We are however able to source and secure suitable accommodation. Additionally, with regards to schooling, Gavin noted that school tours are still not possible, although some are happening virtually, and due to families not moving, some school places are not becoming available.
Gavin also explained EU Nationals are not able to apply for a National Insurance number when arriving in the UK (whereas those outside of the EU can). We are monitoring this situation on a daily basis, and the risk here is that employees in the UK may be going onto an emergency tax code- which would be a concern.
The session next heard from Deborah Murphy, who discussed whether there exists an appetite for future and continued mobility. To start, Deborah looked at the employer perspective, and explained to the group that despite the ongoing events of 2020, employers are still very keen for mobility to continue with international assignments. However, Deborah illustrated that although employers are expecting travel to continue, there will be certain elements that need to be redefined. For example, in order to be more responsive and more agile to external factors and changes in the environment (i.e. a global pandemic). Employers are looking to adopt a more flexible approach to international assignments and policies, such as we might see a reduction in long term traditional assignments, and an increase in commuter travel and frequent business travel.
Deborah also explored the employee perspective, highlighting assignees and their partners are still showing a willingness to have international experience through assignments. Interestingly, individuals who have already had previous international assignment experience were more likely to show some reservation regarding any upcoming assignments, partly due to the inability to reach family and travel home easily this year due to the pandemic. Deborah also highlighted the importance to assignees of networking, and that networking in the new normal is much harder, which is something for assignees, and employers to consider when looking at assignments in 2021.
Jesper Albrekt, gave an update on the US election and travel bans, Brexit, and Covid-19.
Jesper highlighted that under the Biden presidency, many global immigration policies will be inherited from the Trump administration, however we are due to see some liberalisations with travel to the US. We expect to see more friendly immigration policies, which will undoubtedly lead to more travel in and out of the US.
With regards to Brexit, Jesper reminded everyone the need to be prepared for January 1st, as UK citizens will no longer be regarded as EU Nationals from this time. In preparation for this, some EU countries have started to plan their Settlement Schemes, and it’s worth noting that each country will be different, as they are being put together independently (although the differences may be minimal). Some settlement schemes are already available, for example in Sweden, the UK Settlement Scheme went live on December 1st. Jesper highlighted that settlement scheme processes are generally very simple to navigate, but can be tricky initially, and K2 is here to help you with the process if you need.
Jesper then discussed Covid-19, and the unpredictability that it then causes in the space of international travel. For example, in APAC the day before the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble was due to launch, it was cancelled due to an increase in cases in Hong Kong. This example highlights just how quickly things can change on the global stage due to the pandemic, especially to do with international travel and business travel.
In addition to this, Jesper explained how many countries are experiencing an increase in unemployment rates. This is turn is likely to have an impact on international travel and assignments, as countries will limit the amount of foreign workers. As an example of this in APAC, employers will need to evidence strong reasons for employing a foreign national, instead of a local employee. Countries may also increase salary minimums (for example Singapore has already done this), as another way of encouraging local employment.
Countries will want to remain attractive as a place of employment for foreign workers, however will want to limit the number of spaces available. To manage this, new visa programmes are already being launched, for example in Australia and Singapore, with many more due to follow.
UK Immigration - Brexit
The session then heard from our UK Immigration Managers, Sandra Toppin and Simon Higson.
Sandra reminded everyone that from the 1st January 2021, EU Nationals will require the right permissions to work in the UK. It is vital that employers review their HR records to make sure their current employees from the EU, are aware that they should be applying for the EU Settlement Scheme, and send out constant reminders about the application, which is free of charge. EU Nationals already in the UK before the 31st January have until the 30th June 2021 to do this - and obtain a pre-settled or settled status.
Sandra also introduced the Sponsorship Licence, and reminded everyone that the UK Government have released detailed plans on the New Immigration System, for when free movement officially ends in January 1st 2021. All companies who wish to hire EU Nationals, to work in the UK, must have a Sponsor Licence, which K2 can assist with.
Under the New Points Based System a skilled worker will need to attain at least 70 points and for an intra company transfer (ICT) to the UK, there are requirements that must be met before the transfer can take place.
Sandra also highlighted that the Home Office has updated their Sponsor Management System (SMS). This means that from the 1st December 2020, the certificate of sponsorship categories on the SMS will be updated, and any certificates assigned after the 1st December 2020, will be in the new category. For example, Tier 2 General, which is normally the subject heading on a certificate of sponsorship, will now be shown as a Tier 2 Skilled Worker.
For more information on Brexit and how K2 can assist you, please visit our Brexit page.
UK Immigration - Covid-19
Last but not least, the session then heard from Simon Higson, who highlighted that due to Covid-19, immigration applications are being disrupted both in the UK, and globally, and this is leading to delays, which we expect to continue into the new year. Simon highlighted that as a result of these delays and issues, there are a number of concessions that have been made available to both employers and employees. For example, usual reporting of absences under a sponsor licence has been relaxed, there will be no enforcement against absences if these are due to illness, isolation requirements, travel restrictions etc. With biometric centres closed, there are now various relaxations regarding the usual requirements. We have also seen a relaxation of rules regarding switching of visas and starting work before approvals have been processed and salary reduction allowances.
Simon reminded everyone that once a biometric application has been submitted in the UK, the individual will need to remain in the UK until the decision is made. We are experiencing indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications taking at least 5-6 months, so remember to factor this into to your assignment planning.
Simon also explained to the audience that from the 15th December, the UK Home Office are due to introduce a new testing strategy, whereby international travellers will only need to isolate for 5 days, and then take a private test, which if proven to be negative, you will be able to finish your 14-day isolation period early.
To watch a recording of this webinar, please click here.
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