Russell Group fears impact of post-Brexit visa salary threshold

Member universities would be unable to fill 60,000 jobs from abroad, and face increased costs too, says report

March 8, 2019
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About 60,000 jobs at Russell Group universities, a third of all their posts, would not be open to foreign staff if the UK government introduced a £30,000 salary threshold for skilled worker visas.

The finding comes in analysis by accountants EY for the group of 24 research-intensive universities.

Currently, 48,000 Russell Group staff, 26 per cent of all staff, come from abroad.

The analysis also says that Russell Group universities currently spend “around £25 million a year on immigration processes and compliance to recruit and support non-EU staff and students”, estimating that when visas are extended to EU nationals this will “increase by 36 per cent to £34 million by the end of 2022 and by 48 per cent to £37 million by 2031”.

The Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee had recommended that the existing £30,000 minimum salary threshold for Tier 2 applicants be retained if the visa system were extended to EU nationals after Brexit.

But no figure was included in the immigration White Paper, following a Cabinet row over the plans – a majority of ministers are said to favour a lower floor of £21,000 – and the government has committed to further consultation on the threshold.

The Russell Group has now said it backs a £21,000 threshold. The group warns that with a £30,000 threshold, its members would not be able to fill 59,000 jobs, with salaries below the higher threshold, from abroad, “despite the fact around 10 per cent (5,800) are currently filled by EU nationals, demonstrating the clear need for international recruitment”.

“According to EY’s research, the £30,000 threshold would be particularly problematic for certain types of role, such as technicians, scientific staff and also teaching professionals, such as lecturers and language assistants,” the Russell Group says. “Academics earning below £30,000 are usually younger members of staff at an earlier stage of their career, meaning the UK would have less access to the next generation of top international researchers.”

A £30,000 threshold would also hit part-time workers from abroad, and thus disproportionately impact women, it warns.

Tim Bradshaw, Russell Group chief executive, said its member universities “stand among the best in the world and are a proud national asset, precisely because we are international in nature. To deliver for our students and communities we need to attract the best minds from around the globe. For certain posts, for example technicians, we also face real shortages in our domestic workforce.

“The Home Office has said it will listen to concerns about its immigration plans. We are not alone – ask businesses up and down the country along with big public sector employers: setting a £30,000 salary threshold for skilled visas would be a serious own goal, limiting our ability to hire the migrant workers the UK needs and discriminating against part-time employees, who are predominantly women.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

new
What nonsense. In one university I could mention law staff from overseas struggled with their English. They also held the attitude they were too high and mighty to help students. This was a course on English law, meanwhile solicitors practising in this country who could have helped students were unable to get a job in the same university. What precisely is the university being run for. I's shameful.
new
Ah, so the Russell Group just want to ensure a continuing supply of 'cheap' disposable labour? I consider myself fortunate to work in a specialist area of research, with people from around the world, but most are struggling to live on salaries way below their true worth. No matter that those specifying job roles always want the maximum person for the minimum pay, aided and abetted by (in)human resources. The fact that more than half of the 'technician' team members hold PhD's, maximum person, and are paid less than the 'machine minding monkeys' (a CNC programmers term for human 'robot' machine loaders) in other departments workshops, minimum pay, means increased bottom line 'profit' for the Academic leads, and more importantly the University. Perhaps it's time the Russell Group started looking at their staff's true worth, the excess hours they demand, and the poor pay they give to those that actually interface with students (primary customers) and research activities, not just those who're precariously balanced on the shoulders of those supporting the load...

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