A report by the UK government’s advisers on migration has cemented the likelihood that EU staff and students coming to British universities after Brexit will need visas.
Alan Manning, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, said in a foreword to its report on migration from the continent to the UK: “If – and this is not a MAC recommendation – immigration is not to be part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK is deciding its future migration system in isolation, we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens.”
He added that this “would mean ending free movement but that would not make the UK unusual – for example, Canada has an open, welcoming approach to migration but no free movement agreement with any other country”.
The report’s recommendations include abolishing the cap on the number of migrants entering the UK under Tier 2 skilled worker visas, a proposal welcomed by universities. But the recommendations also include keeping the same salary threshold for Tier 2 visas – at least £30,000 a year presently – which is viewed as too high by universities.
Last week, the MAC issued a report on the impact of international students, which rejected calls for them to be removed from the government’s target to reduce net migration and for the return of post-study work visas.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said of the latest MAC report that the end of preferential access for EU citizens “will be a disappointment for universities but I do think, as a sector, we need to accept that a general presumption in favour of (relatively wealthy) EU countries and against (relatively poorer) developing countries is impossible to sustain if and when a clean Brexit happens”.
But he added: “There is a market for international students and staff, so the spread of tricky visa procedures to more people would be bound to act as a deterrent.”
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said there were nearly 50,000 EU nationals working in UK universities making “a vitally important contribution”.
He added: “In particular, we welcome the recommendations which extend and increase the flexibility of the Tier 2 visa, which would help with the recruitment of a broader range of workers and skills than the current system allows. The ability to recruit international staff at a broad range of skill levels – and with minimal barriers – is vital to the continued, global success of our universities.
“We hope the UK government now develops promptly a reshaped immigration system that encourages talented international university staff to choose the UK. If not, we risk losing them to other countries. This does not relate only to international academics and researchers, but also to highly trained international technical and support staff who play such an important role in our universities as well.”