Employers were advised to conduct a “workforce audit” in order to “identify the EU nationals”.
Businesses were told they could reduce “exposure to upcoming changes” by instructing migrants to register for residency with the UK government’s immigration department now.
The advice published on the Bank of Scotland’s website warned that employers could be forced to pay a new “immigration skills charge” after Brexit.
Migrants of Scotland, an umbrella organisation which helps incomers assimilate, have accused the Bank of Scotland of “scaremongering”.
Joanna Zawadzka, a co-founder of the group, said: “We are deeply concerned that the tone of the document, and the emphasis on a purely theoretical possibility of an immigration skills charge one day being extended to EEA nationals currently resident in the UK, could inadvertently foster discriminatory attitudes and actions – particularly since the illegality of such discrimination has not been mentioned.
“Frankly, it’s scaremongering, unethical and quite possibly promotes discrimination.”
The advice on the bank’s website was written by Natasha Chell, partner and Head of Risk and Compliance at Laura Devine Solicitors.
Zawadzka, who moved to Scotland from Poland in 2006, said Chell uses the word “risk” seven times in her advice to employers but the word “support” is used just once.
She said: “The primary risk on which the advice is predicated focusses on EEA nationals currently employed in the UK becoming subject to an immigration skills charge in future. Such a possibility has not been proposed by the government, nor by any political party.
“In addition we are concerned about the focus on encouraging EU nationals to apply for a registration certificate or permanent residence card as soon as possible.
“We believe that EEA nationals should have access to good and independent advice about their options and that people’s personal decisions whether or not to apply for a registration certificate or permanent residence card must be respected.
“The Home Office currently advises that EEA nationals ‘don’t need to do anything as a result of Article 50 being triggered’ and that ‘under EU law, you don’t need a document to confirm your permanent residence status in the UK’.”
Zawadzka points to Edinburgh University as a “positive example” of what employers can do to support staff.
The university has offered group information sessions with external immigration advisors, provided staff with details of solicitors specialising in immigration law and offered interest free loans to help staff pay the fees for applying for a permanent residency card, for Indefinite Leave to Remain, or for UK citizenship.
Migrants Scotland has written to the Bank of Scotland to ask them to remove the advice from their website, but it remained online last night.
A spokesman for the bank said: “We note the letter from Migrants Scotland and we will be looking carefully at the points that have been raised.”
The Sunday Herald also contacted Chell, who said: “In the absence of government assurances, EU citizens and their families cannot be sure of their right to remain in the UK post Brexit.
“Migrants Scotland are right to focus on the need for employers to support their employees facing such enormous and potentially life-changing uncertainty.
“We are working with many employers – including universities operating similar programmes to the one Migrants Scotland highlight at Edinburgh University, offering extensive support and guidance to employees.
“Foremost amongst the risks we are advising businesses to manage is the risk that unsupported employees will simply up sticks and return home, leaving employers with skills gaps and large recruitment headaches affecting their ability to operate. An inability to care for the needs of your employees is a business critical risk.
“We also agree with Migrants Scotland that employers need to be aware of the need not to allow uncertainty over the future status of EU citizens to encourage them to break the law by discriminating against the best candidates for the job. However, none of this detracts from our core advice.”