Proposals for EU citizens’ post-Brexit rights worry universities

Sector figures say government proposals fail to guarantee future for academics based in the UK

June 28, 2017
Students protesting against Brexit
Source: iStock

Higher education leaders have criticised the UK government’s proposals for European Union citizens’ rights post-Brexit, claiming that they “add confusion” and fail to guarantee academics’ future in the country.

The Home Office published a policy paper on 26 June outlining how EU citizens who have lived in the UK for at least five years will be eligible for a new “settled status”, with the same residency, employment, health, welfare and pension rights as British citizens.

Those who have not been in the UK for five years but arrived before a specified cut-off date will be able to apply for temporary status in order to remain in the UK until they have accumulated five years, after which they will be eligible to apply for settled status.

Meanwhile, those who arrive after the cut-off date will be allowed to remain in the UK for at least a temporary period and may become eligible to settle permanently, but this is not guaranteed.  

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that she did not think the approach would “fill many [EU citizens] with confidence that the UK wants them to stay”.

She said that this was “particularly worrying” given that a survey by the consultancy firm Deloitte, published on 27 June, found that 47 per cent of highly skilled workers from the EU were considering leaving the UK in the next five years.

“EU citizens have been left in limbo for 12 months already and the government’s plans add confusion for those who may have to apply twice for citizenship,” said Ms Hunt.

“The prime minister should show leadership and send a strong message to the EU, and the rest of the world, by offering a unilateral guarantee for EU citizens who work in this country and call it home.

“Higher education benefits from people who come and go regularly, so not only do recent arrivals need protection, but the sector needs guarantees for the future that international academics will still be welcome to work and live in this country. Students, understandably, will want to know what the long-term deal will be if they want to study in the different parts of the UK, as will universities looking to attract them.”

Alistair Jarvis, deputy chief executive of Universities UK, said that the offer “leaves a number of questions unanswered and does not go far enough in providing the certainty and welcome that our European staff deserve”.

"But, we hope that this is only a starting point and the position is likely to develop as the negotiations progress," he added.

“Throughout the negotiations, it’s important that the government provides certainty on work and residency rights for all EU staff currently working in UK universities, and their dependants.

“EU students and staff make an enormously important contribution to UK universities. We have to make them feel welcome here, or risk losing them to competitor countries.”

Michael Arthur, the president of University College London, said that the fate of EU staff was a “critical” issue for institutions.

“We actively encourage UK and EU politicians to make rapid progress on this issue, so that the current uncertainty facing EU citizens, including our staff and students, can be resolved,” he said.

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