Digital firms need to address impact on staff of Brexit now, says trade body.

Digital technologies businesses should openly address the issue of Brexit and its impact on staff to retain EU workers who may be worried about their ability to continue to work in the UK or considering leaving the country, according to trade body ScotlandIS

The digital technologies industry is already facing a skills shortage and Brexit uncertainty poses a serious threat for firms of all sizes that rely on skilled EU nationals who are in high demand in the international talent market, it said. Created in partnership with Brodies, the ScotlandIS Brexit Briefing focuses on the rights of non-UK EU nationals and recommends steps that firms can take to support employees wanting to  protect their residency rights post-Brexit.

The sector contributes £5bn in GVA annually and some 91,000 people are employed in digital technologies roles across the economy. Scotland’s software and IT businesses alone employed 4000 non-UK EU nationals in 2015, accounting for 11.5 per cent of employees. In a survey by ScotlandIS Following the 2016 referendum, 75% of members said that Brexit would have a negative or very negative impact on their access to staff with the right skills.

Svea Miesch, research and policy manager at ScotlandIS, said: “Understandably the future status and rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK is a subject of particular importance and concern for our members. Many of Scotland’s digital technologies companies employ staff from other EU countries but that is not the only issue. We have companies that are owned by non-UK EU nationals, and EU students studying at Scottish universities are an important source of future talent for our industry.

“It’s important to note that nothing will change until at least March 2019 when the UK leaves the EU. Until then, the UK has to guarantee freedom of movement for citizens of other EU countries. In the meantime, employers can take a number of practical steps to try and retain their staff from EU countries beyond Brexit.”

Lynne Marr, an employment law specialist and Partner at Brodies, recommended starting with an overview of the immigration status of all employees. “No immigration procedures have been necessary for most EU nationals so far (other than the usual right to work checks carried out for all employees at the start of employment) and that means many employers do not have this information to hand. Employers will need this information to assess the potential impact on their business if non-UK EU nationals amongst their staff leave the country post-Brexit or if additional immigration controls make them more difficult to employ in the future.

“Companies that employ several EU nationals might also want to organise a session with an immigration law expert to provide their staff with objective information on their options. Some employers are already going further and offering staff access to an immigration expert for face-to-face session to discuss their specific circumstances or even financial support, such as staff loans, for those who seeking more comprehensive legal advice. These steps can provide reassurance to staff who are unsettled by the current uncertainty about the future deal between the UK and EU.”

Marr added: “There are plans for the UK Government to bring forward an Immigration Bill setting out a framework for a new immigration system. Different options are being discussed and it is possible that a whole new system for EU and non-EU citizens could be designed.”

ScotlandIS is currently developing proposals on a future immigration system that would serve the needs of Scotland’s digital technologies industry and allow businesses to continue to thrive. Svea Miesch said: “We are keen to hear from our members and others in the business community with suggestions and experiences of hiring and retaining international talent in Scotland’s digital economy.”