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Don’t let your talent drift away

Don’t let your talent drift away

How do you hold onto your EU workforce? Be practical, personal and prepared, says Punam Birly, Brexit People & Immigration Lead.


Director, KPMG Law

KPMG in the UK


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Don’t let your talent drift away

People are the heart and soul of any business. For many UK employers – from food manufacturers to financial services firms – that now includes a large number of EU citizens, whose skills and expertise comprise an invaluable part of the mix. 

Last year’s referendum vote left many of those workers feeling very anxious. In a recent KPMG survey on the intentions of EU nationals in the UK, over a third told us they were now considering moving on. And it’s the young, single and highly educated who are most likely to head for the door.

Yet a brain drain is by no means a done deal. As negotiations between the UK and the EU gather pace, there is also plenty that employers can do to help keep their prized EU talent on board. 

Be practical

What EU nationals want, above all, is reassurance and advice. Where do they stand? If they want to stay in the UK, how should they apply for residency? What else should they be doing and when?

The government’s June 2017 policy paper on the status of EU citizens, post-Brexit, has set out some broad principles. 

We now know that there will be a cut-off date and those EU nationals that are in the UK at this date, but have not completed five years of continuous residence by the time we leave the EU, will be able to stay in the UK after exit and build up the right to permanently reside in the country, known as ‘settled status’. People who don’t qualify before the end of a two-year grace period after withdrawal (29 March 2021) will need to apply for temporary residence – ‘leave to remain’ – under new rules.

At what point EU citizens will have needed to be here by in order to get on board the ‘residency train’ is the big question, and is one of the issues still being discussed in the current negotiations. Other issues on which there is no agreement yet include whether posted workers are impacted, the rights of family members of EU citizens and the role of the European Court of Justice in enforcing citizens’ rights. And, for worried EU workers, more questions persist. It’s possible that we might not get concrete answers to these for some time – but lack of clarity is no reason for inaction. From my conversations with clients, I’d estimate that some 70% of businesses are still not engaging with the issue properly. The simple truth is: the more support you provide now, the greater the incentive for your people to stay and continue making a valuable contribution to your business. 

You should:

  • Understand precisely how many EU nationals are on your payroll
  • Communicate as fully as possible on immigration requirements and what the changes on residency are likely to be
  • Pin down the residency application deadlines and advise your staff what needs to be done and when
  • Run information sessions on the visa application process
  • Encourage staff to apply for permanent residence now, to avoid a surge in applications further down the line
  • Decide, in a broader sense, what your policy is in terms of supporting visa applications and how much you are able to invest in the process.

Keep it personal

Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel facing such uncertainty? The Brexit effect on EU Nationals survey showed that any possible flight risk is, above all else, fuelled by how welcome and secure EU staff now feel living and working in the UK.

You can help by reassuring EU nationals that you want them to stay – and keeping the lines of communication open, so that staff feel comfortable raising concerns or requests for support at any time.

Stay prepared

No matter how unclear the Brexit journey ahead, businesses can create their own certainty by planning for a range of different outcomes – and starting that process right now.

Think, for example:

  • What is your possible exposure to flight risk, not just with your own staff, but also those who work for your suppliers and clients?
  • How would you replace any staff who leave? Should be you be recruiting more locally? 
  • Are you prepared for the implication of the widening of the current ‘right to work’ regime, which is designed to prevent illegal working? Which new forms of documentation might you need to check to ensure an employee has valid evidence of a right to work? 

For advice on longer term workforce planning, see 'Your post-Brexit team: a force for the future?'  

All to play for

Many EU nationals are already deciding whether or not their future lies in the UK after Brexit. The more employers can do now to make them feel secure and help with the practicalities of staying, the more chance they will be an asset to your business in the future.

© 2021 KPMG LLP a UK limited liability partnership and a member firm of the KPMG global organisation of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved.

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