EU academics: we want you in the UK and you will not be asked to leave

The government is working hard to secure the rights of the 33,000 academics from other EU countries who are working in the UK, says immigration minister Brandon Lewis

December 1, 2017
EU stay hat
Source: Getty

Higher education is one of the UK’s most successful export sectors, generating millions of pounds for the economy by creating jobs and attracting thousands of overseas students and world-leading academics every year. That is why we as a government are determined to ensure its continued growth.

We have always been crystal clear that there is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to learn in the UK, and we have no plan to impose one.

Last year, the UK public voted to leave the European Union, and that democratic decision is now being implemented. I know that some people in the higher education sector are anxious about the future, but Brexit is an opportunity for the UK to cement itself as a global leader and to show the world that we are open for business.

Leaving the EU means that free movement will end – but this does not mean that migration will end. After Brexit, we want to continue welcoming academics and students from around the world to our great universities. That is why since the referendum I have been meeting representatives from the higher education sector to hear their views, concerns and ideas about the workings of our future immigration system.

At my most recent meeting with Universities UK last month, I gave an assurance that our future immigration system would allow universities to thrive further. Proof of this government’s commitment is the announcement in last week’s Budget that will make it easier for foreign researchers to come to and stay in the UK.

On top of these meetings, the Migration Advisory Committee is looking at the role played by Europeans working in the UK. That review covers every sector and every part of the country. This is a chance for universities and colleges to express their opinions. It will provide us with further evidence with which to build a new immigration system that works for the whole of the UK, including for universities. In addition to this, we have asked the MAC to carry out its first full assessment of the impact of international students.

We are also working hard to secure the rights of the more than 33,000 academics from other EU countries who are working in the UK.

To those EU academics, let me be clear – we want you to stay and you will not be asked to leave. We are building a settled status scheme with an application process that is straightforward and user-friendly; applications will not be refused on minor technicalities, and we expect the vast majority of cases to be granted quickly. Your new legal status will give you rights to work, to healthcare and benefits in line with British citizens.

Both the UK and the EU want to ensure that people’s lives can go on as they do now, and we are now within touching distance of a deal that will ensure this.

I am proud that the UK remains one of the most popular destinations for international students and staff. As we leave the EU, please do not underestimate the government’s commitment to ensuring that that continues.

Brandon Lewis is the immigration minister.

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Reader's comments (4)

Even if we believe that any process will be entirely painless and that this continues to be true for new academic immigrants in the future, the real problem is not whether immigrant academics will be *allowed* to stay/come but whether they will *want* to come in an environment seen as increasingly hostile to immigrants.
The sector has suffered badly since 52% of the British people voted to kick immigrants including academics out. Does the minister genuinely believe this rubbish that he has written? If so, God help us in HE as our minister is thick.
The issue here is not so simple. It is not just a case of those who are here already but those that potentially will not come. This comes down to the whole eco system, which includes -- how will people's children be treated, what is the process and costs to EU graduate students who may choose to stay, what will other institutions across the continent do to take advantage of the unsettled circumstances, and so on. Just saying that those who are here will go through a 'painless process' to stay says little about what the situation will be for those who could have chosen to come in 2020 but will choose to go elsewhere, be they faculty, post-docs or PhD students. As a foreigner in the UK it is pretty clear that the environment is not the most welcoming now and will be less so in the future. It is also the case that the government and the opposition have taken to using the university sector as a political football and in the end many people will simply look at the situation and say "why bother?".
I do not for a moment believe that we are welcome. Like other EU citizens who work in UK academia, the UK was my destination of choice in part because it is open, meritocratic, there is lots of opportunity for obtaining external funds (which will be severely diminished if we cannot bid for ERC funds anymore). I had a job offer in the US which I declined in part because of the difficulties with visas, green cards, and my spouse finding a job in the US (which was difficult at the time with the highly restrictive H4 visa). Meanwhile, I see my non-EU colleagues struggle. An American colleague of mine needs to pay up for his own visas etc, some people are denied Indefinite Leave to Remain because they have been too long out of the country. Several instances of this are anthropologists, political scientists, and archaeologists, who worked abroad for too many months (even if it was for their UK institution, and they continue to pay UK NI and council tax). A US academic I know got worrisome messages about his visa renewal saying that it was an extraordinarily difficult case and so that it would take longer. He was unable to sleep properly and severely anxious. Even though he had not been out of the country for longer than allowed, had all the paperwork to document his stay, worked above the minimum income threshold... he still knew that if the HO screwed up he would be powerless and might be deported, having to argue his case from the US. And here is another thing, written by a friend: "Today lunch with a soon-to-be former non-EU colleague with a PhD: old passport with valid work visum expired, with no option of transferring the still-valid work visum to the new passport. Had to apply again for work visum and was denied, which means that colleague, spouse, and children (one of them born here) will have to leave the UK." - soon that will be us, and there is nothing we can do but vote with our feet. UK academia currently attracts many EU citizen scholars - many of whom have landed prestigious ERC, AHRC, Wellcome and other grants - because there is not the hassle with visas, possible deportations etc. It is certainly not because of the workload and admin, which is significantly higher than in many EU countries. The pay is also modest - equivalent places in the US have higher wages, for example. So I do expect a steady trickle away, and failure to attract new candidates if this hostile environment policy does not stop.