UK public back skills over salary for post-Brexit immigration rules

Universities UK poll shows Britons value skills rather than income level when it comes to immigration

December 10, 2019
brexit, higher education, university, tuition fees

Four out of five Britons are in favour of allowing scientists, academics and their support staff to work in this country at any stage of their career, a survey suggests.

In a poll commissioned by Universities UK, whose results were published on 10 December, just over 4,000 British adults were asked what they would like from the UK’s immigration system in the event of Brexit.

Almost nine in 10 respondents (85 per cent) said that it is important for the UK to be a world leader in science and research, while 87 per cent said it is more important that the UK’s immigration system attracts university staff who are highly skilled. Only 3 per cent of British adults agreed instead that it was more important that the UK’s future immigration system attracts university staff who are highly paid.

The poll, which was conducted by Savanta ComRes, comes as the Migration Advisory Committee explores the creation of a points-based immigration system and a salary threshold for international staff following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has committed in its manifesto to introduce a “Australian-style points-based system to control immigration”. In Australia, visa decisions have been determined on the basis of points awarded for education qualifications, language competency, age and work experience, albeit accompanied by “relatively high levels of immigration by international standards”, according to the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory.

Seven in 10 respondents (69 per cent) in the UUK survey said that a UK points-based immigration system should be designed so that scientists, academics and their support staff score highly.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said that the polling “shows the strength of feeling among the British public that immigrants should be welcomed into the country on the strength of their skills and potential rather than facing a system that judges them on their income”.

“If a new immigration system were to have a salary threshold, Universities UK has called for a threshold of £21,000 which would allow recruitment for most technician and language assistant roles in the higher education sector,” said Mr Jarvis.

He added that staff who may potentially fall beneath this threshold, such as technicians, researchers and language assistants, were “all vital in supporting both high-quality teaching and innovative research at our universities”. 

Mr Jarvis continued: “As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is more vital than ever that the UK remains a world leader in science and research and continues to attract international talent at different stages of their careers – from support staff and technicians to Nobel Prize winners.”

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