The following Q&A was completed while Julia Onslow-Cole served as Partner, Legal Markets Leader and Head of Global Immigration at PwC. Julia joined Fragomen as a Partner in its Government Strategies and Compliance practice in January 2019.
Julia sits on the global leadership team for PwC’s worldwide legal practice and is the global head of immigration, with PwC practices in 174 countries. She was recently appointed to the SHRM Immigration Speciality Panel and sits on the board of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Julia has represented business at the Prime Minister’s immigration stock take meeting and acted as an adviser to the Home Office and other governments on business, investment and growth. Julia sits on the Mayor of London’s Brexit Advisory Group and the Home Office EU Immigration Employers’ Representative Group. She has been liaising with Government and Business on immigration outcomes subsequent to the EU Referendum and has twice given expert evidence at the European Parliament.
What role are you taking in shaping immigration policy?
Immigration continues to dominate global news headlines. Business faces challenges in moving people globally, particularly for short-term assignments.
The immigration debate in Europe has been dominated by Brexit and the uncertainty around EU citizens living in the UK, as well as British citizens living in Europe. In the USA, the travel ban and tightening of existing immigration policies have impacted business planning. The restrictive global immigration landscape poses increasing challenges to business – both small and large firms.
As the leader of PwC’s global immigration practice, I am engaged with a variety of businesses across a wide industry area. I am co-signatory of the ground-breaking PwC/London First report on the impact of migrant workers in London, and a further report on immigration options post-Brexit released in November 2018; and a co-signatory of the report on regional visas commissioned by the City of London Corporation. I have given expert evidence twice at the European Parliament.
In addition, I have recently been appointed to the SHRM Immigration Speciality Panel and sit on the board of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. These engagements, combined with my formal position on the Mayor of London’s Brexit Advisory Group and Home Office EU Immigration Employers’ Representative Group, enable me to represent business and take a leading role in the shaping of immigration policy.
Firms are increasingly looking for holistic Brexit advice, encompassing all areas of their firm’s needs. How is PwC positioned to provide this type of support?
PwC has been active in advising clients and key stakeholders on the implications of Brexit since before the referendum result was announced. We continue to lead and inform on the Brexit debate through detailed analysis of developments and engagement with both government departments, businesses and industry leaders. I personally continue to represent the business community as a member of the Mayor of London’s Brexit advisory group and the Home Office EU Immigration Employers’ Representative Group.
The PwC Brexit taskforce brings together senior expert advisers from across our business resulting in a centralised approach being used to address firms’ needs. Our extensive insight, global coverage and “one-firm” approach means that we work collaboratively to provide holistic advice to business across areas including immigration, mobility, tax, trade and customs, employment and regulation.
What developments in the UK immigration space should clients be aware of over the coming months?
Immigration is an ever-evolving area with policymakers trying to strike a balance between the changing nature of business, and societal change and attitudes. This being the case, we ensure that we follow and contribute to the immigration debate closely. We assess the impact of proposed policy changes to clients’ global mobility programmes and the recruitment and retention of talent. As the immigration system is currently in a state of flux, clients need to be aware of the possibility of increased costs (for example, an increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge), and the implications of the proposed EU settlement scheme and transition period for their employees. Sectors that employ low-skilled EU migrants will not be able to withstand a sudden change in the immigration landscape and are calling for a long transition to a new post-Brexit immigration landscape. Automation will not replace labour needs overnight.
You hold a number of important public advisory roles. How can the government best prepare itself for Britain’s immigration needs after Brexit?
Stakeholder engagement and collaboration is key to the success of new immigration policies. The government has established a number of stakeholder groups and is in listening mode. A successful immigration policy will necessitate a deep understanding of the pace of change in the future of working including automation. Policies should encourage investment and growth, while demonstrating flexibility and agility.
Looking forward, how do you expect your practice will change after Brexit?
Our practice continues to evolve in response to client needs, changing political environment and immigration policy changes. Brexit has resulted in our practice offering bespoke consultancy and advisory services as businesses undertake scenario planning that will cause minimal disruption to their operations. Clients also require advice on short-term business visitor solutions and global immigration solutions.
Our practice model is agile and flexible in responding to business requirements.