Home secretary Theresa May has been warned that her plan to raise salary thresholds for non-European Union workers to gain visas would be “severely detrimental” to UK universities’ ability to recruit international staff and would even stop some institutions from hiring senior lecturers from overseas.
The claims from Universities UK come in submission to a consultation on plans to raise minimum salary thresholds in the Tier 2 visa system for skilled workers.
The Russell Group also strongly opposes the planned changes in its submission, saying that they risk “jeopardising the ability of our universities to offer instruction to students in languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Japanese and Mandarin”, such is the potential impact on recruitment of overseas lecturers.
The plans could also damage student recruitment, says the Russell Group, which warns that “any further restrictions placed on the ability of international students to move into work routes in order to remain in the UK after graduation risks damaging the UK’s competitiveness in the international market”.
Academics from outside Europe are a “vital component of the workforce within UK universities comprising 11.7 per cent of academic staff”, UUK says.
The Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the government on immigration policy, has been commissioned by Ms May to conduct a review of the Tier 2 system. A consultation on salary thresholds, to close on 21 July, is the first stage of the review.
The MAC consultation document says that it has been “asked to consider the impact” of increasing the general salary threshold of £20,800; of increasing minimum salaries for experienced workers from the 25th percentile of the full-time salary range in any occupation “to the 50th or 75th percentile, or other appropriate measure”; and of increasing minimum salaries per occupation for new entrant workers from the 10th percentile “to the 25th or 50th percentiles, or other appropriate measure”.
The new entrant and experienced worker thresholds are currently at £21,000 and £27,200 for researchers, according to UUK.
The organisation says in its submission that using the 25th percentile for new entrant researchers “would increase the minimum salary required by 40.6 per cent from its current level of £21,000 to £29,518”. The experienced worker threshold would rise to £35,860 on the 50th percentile, the Russell Group says.
“Any increase in the thresholds for new entrants or experienced workers would be severely detrimental to the sector’s ability to recruit international talent, would create upward salary distortions, and be harmful to the UK’s position as a world-leader in research,” UUK continues.
Raising the threshold for experienced workers to the 50th or 75th percentiles “would be extremely detrimental and would limit a number of universities from recruiting academics to all but professorial roles, thus excluding lecturers and senior lecturers”, it also says.
The Russell Group says: “Under the proposed changes, our universities would no longer be able to sponsor a number of international staff members under Tier 2 as they would have neither the ability nor the resources to increase salaries accordingly.”