The government’s “settled status” plan for European Union nationals in the UK “will be a serious challenge for our academic community” in its restrictions on exits from the country, according to the Russell Group.
However, the group of research-intensive institutions welcomed the Home Office plan, unveiled on 21 June, more broadly.
EU nationals made up more than a quarter of all academics at a third of Russell Group universities in 2015-16, according to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency released to Times Higher Education last year.
EU citizens and family members who have been in the UK for five years by the end of 2020 will be able to apply for settled status, meaning that they can go on living and working in the UK indefinitely, the BBC reported.
Meanwhile, those who have arrived by 31 December 2020 but do not have five years’ residence can seek to stay until they have, at which point they may seek settled status, it added.
Tim Bradshaw, Russell Group chief executive, said: “We appreciate the sincere attempt by the Home Office to design a simple and easy-to-use system. It is welcome that the government’s explicit, default position will be to seek to accept, rather than refuse, status applications.
“EU students, in particular [who may need to apply if they wish to stay on in the UK for work or postgraduate study], will appreciate the flexibility surrounding proof-of-residence documentation, as many will not have engaged with the UK’s tax and benefits systems.”
THE reported in October that comments by ministers that settled status “would generally be lost if a person was absent from the UK for more than two years, unless they have strong ties here” had given rise to concerns about the effect on EU academics who undertake periods of research leave abroad.
“The ‘180-day rule’, which restricts EU nationals who are seeking settled status from leaving the country for more than six months in any year, will be a serious challenge for our academic community,” said Mr Bradshaw.
“The highly mobile nature of UK-based researchers and their ability to conduct projects abroad are essential for maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader in research and innovation.
“We urge the government to confirm that the exemption allowing pre-settled EU nationals to leave the UK for up to 12 months including for ‘study or an overseas posting’ will give academics and researchers the greatest possible flexibility in pursuing opportunities overseas without harming their status applications.”
He added: “The government has set an ambitious timetable for implementing the new scheme. Russell Group universities are ready to act as pilot sites, and we will actively support EU nationals in our communities as they apply for status.”