UK’s post-Brexit immigration plan includes points for PhDs

But Home Office’s planned salary threshold of £25,600 brings UUK call to avoid ‘unintended negative consequences’

February 19, 2020

The UK government’s plans for a points-based post-Brexit immigration system include allowing some workers with PhDs ways around the minimum salary threshold, a proposal that will impact on universities and researchers.

Free movement between the UK and European Union is currently scheduled to end on 31 December 2020, meaning EU nationals intending to work in the country will be required to obtain a visa.

Home Office policy statement on plans for a new immigration system, published on 19 February, says that the government accepts the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation to lower the general salary threshold for a visa from £30,000 to £25,600. It adds: “Migrants will still need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation, known as the ‘going rate’, and the general salary threshold.”

Some university roles have salaries below £25,600. The Home Office document says that if overseas workers “earn less than the required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be able to come if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation, as designated by the MAC, or that they have a PhD relevant to the job”.

It also says that “a university researcher in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subject wishing to come to the UK on a salary of £22,000 (which is below the general minimum salary threshold) may still be able to enter the UK if they have a relevant PhD in a STEM subject”.

Overseas workers who want a visa would have to be able to speak English at a required level and have the offer of a skilled job with an “approved sponsor”.

They would be awarded 50 points if they fulfil these criteria. Overall, 70 points will be needed for a visa – with additional points awarded for qualifications, the salary on offer and working in a sector with shortages.

On PhDs, the Home Office says: “It is also important to recognise that in some higher paid occupations, the ‘going rate’ will be above the general salary threshold. Migrants will still be awarded points for holding a relevant PhD or if the occupation is in shortage, which they will be able to trade against a salary lower than the ‘going rate’: 10 per cent lower if they have a relevant PhD in a non-STEM subject; 20 per cent lower if they have a relevant PhD in a STEM subject; or 20 per cent lower if the occupation is designated in shortage by the MAC.”

The government had already planned a fast-track visa scheme “to attract the world’s top scientists, researchers and mathematicians”.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said: “I welcome the fact that academics and researchers are being recognised for their high skill level and their contribution to the UK economy and society.”

She added: “While we welcome the recognition that the salary threshold of £30,000 was too high, we still need to ensure that all university staff will be able to work in the UK, including lab technicians and language assistants, who are vital to supporting the success of our universities.

“The government must ensure that new immigration arrangements avoid potential unintended negative consequences for the ability of universities to attract all the talented staff they need with minimal barriers and to continue our world leading research and teaching.”

The Home Office also says that students “will be covered by the points-based system. They will achieve the required points if they can demonstrate that they have an offer from an approved educational institution, speak English and are able to support themselves during their studies in the UK.”

The government plans to introduce the new system from 1 January 2021. But many in the sector are sceptical that the Home Office will have the capacity to establish a visa system for EU students within that time.

UUK has asked the government to extend the status quo arrangements for EU students for those entering courses in 2021.

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