The immigration minister Brandon Lewis has declared “EU academics: we want you in the UK and you will not be asked to leave after Brexit” (Opinion, 7 December), however I do not believe that we are welcome. Like other European Union citizens in UK academia, the UK was my destination of choice in part because of its openness, meritocracy and opportunities for obtaining external funds (which will be severely diminished if we can no longer bid for European Research Council funds). I declined a job offer in the US in part because of the difficulties with visas, green cards and my spouse finding a job.
Yet here I see my non-EU colleagues struggle. An American colleague needs to pay for his own visas and such, while some people are denied indefinite leave to remain because they have been out of the UK for too long.
A US academic I know was disturbed after receiving messages saying that his visa renewal case was extraordinarily difficult and would take longer than usual. Even though he had not been out of the country for longer than allowed, had all the paperwork to document his stay, and worked above the minimum income threshold, he still knew that if the Home Office were to screw up he would be powerless and could be deported and forced to argue his case from the US.
Another friend shared a disturbing message with me: “Today lunch with a soon-to-be former non-EU colleague with a PhD: old passport with valid work visum expired, with no option of transferring the still-valid work visum to the new passport. Had to apply again for work visum and was denied, which means that colleague, spouse and children (one of them born here) will have to leave the UK.”
Soon, that could be any of us, and there is nothing that we can do but vote with our feet.
UK academia attracts many EU scholars because there is no hassle with visas, possible deportations and so on. It is certainly not because of the workload and admin, which is higher than in many EU countries. The pay is also modest – equivalent places in the US have higher salaries, for example. So I expect to see a steady trickling-away of talent and a failure to attract new candidates if this hostile environment continues.
The issue of EU academics in the UK after Brexit is not just about those who are already here but also about those who potentially will not come. This boils down to the whole ecosystem, which involves concerns over how people’s children will be treated, the process and costs for EU graduate students who may choose to stay, what other institutions on the Continent could do to take advantage of the unsettled circumstances, and so on.
Simply saying that those who are here will go through a “painless process” to stay says little about how the situation would be for those who might have chosen to come in 2020 but who will now choose to go elsewhere. As a foreigner in the UK, it is clear that the environment is not the most welcoming and that it will be less so in future.