The next head of one of the UK’s most prestigious scholarship programmes has attacked “punitive” immigration rules after revealing that foreign scientists in his laboratory had to keep a diary of their whereabouts.
Barry Everitt, professor of behavioural neuroscience at the University of Cambridge – who has just been appointed provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust – said that academics from outside the European Union had to keep a weekly record of their movements, including any absences from work.
He told Times Higher Education that an American employee was told by administrators in Cambridge’s department of psychology that they were only enforcing what was required of them by the now-defunct UK Border Agency.
However, Cambridge has since clarified with the Home Office that such measures to track foreign employees are unnecessary.
Professor Everitt, who is also master of Downing College and from October will oversee the scheme endowed by billionaire Bill Gates’ charitable foundation, said that visa requirements placed on international students and employees were “self-defeating”.
“My lab has three Argentinians, two Americans, [individuals] from New Zealand, France, Italy, Spain – it’s very international,” he said. “The ones from non-European countries [had] to keep a weekly diary and explain even two-day absences…for example if they were going for a meeting in London.”
In theory, they would have had to make a note of going out “for a bit of shopping or meeting a friend”.
A Cambridge spokesman said it had now changed its guidance to staff after clarifying record-keeping requirements with the Home Office.
He said: “The university raised this issue with the Home Office in April, and it has clarified that there is no need for Cambridge to keep records of the whereabouts of sponsored migrants with PhD-level roles. The university is circulating a letter shortly to inform staff.”
Professor Everitt, who wants to encourage students from Asia, Africa and South America to apply for Gates scholarships, said that although the visa rules were not aimed at Cambridge students and scholars, they still affected them through “the law of unintended consequences”.
“The students we have here are outstanding and they’re subjected to these punitive, self-defeating rules and regulations,” he said. “These are students who are here working really hard to achieve good outcomes in their master’s and PhDs and they’re made to feel…that they are undesirable aliens who are here under sufferance; and that’s wrong.”