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.