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The British Academy: current and proposed immigration policy is undermining the academic sector

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The British Academy, the UK’s leading body for the humanities and social sciences, has called for a rethink of the Government’s proposed immigration system which it says risks severely damaging the UK’s higher education sector.

In two statements published today (22 February 2019) the Academy said that the policy direction set out by the Home Office was at odds with the practical realities of academic structures and could erode the competitiveness and attractiveness of UK higher education and research.

Professor Ash Amin, the British Academy’s Foreign Secretary and Vice-President has said:

“Current and proposed immigration policy is expensive, contradictory and time-consuming and it is unlikely that the UK will be able to attract and retain internationally leading academics if these proposals come into being. The proposed salary threshold will deeply damage the attractiveness of the UK in particular to part-time researchers, language teaching assistants and early career staff and may discourage students too. There is also an inflexibility to academics and students’ travel arrangements for research and study, as well as the effective double charging for NHS contributions. We believe there is another way to proceed that will support higher education and research in this country through the current uncertainty and have set out our thoughts in this statement so they may be of use to those working on this important policy.”

The statements set out the Academy’s views on the new immigration system proposed in the Government’s White Paper and existing plans for UK-based EU nationals post-Brexit. Both highlight the specific threat to the humanities and social sciences, where six of the top seven disciplines with the highest proportion of non-UK EU undergraduates are in the humanities and social sciences.

The Academy said the proposed direction of policy, as set out in the Home Office ‘EU Settlement Scheme: Statement of Intent’, risks removing acquired legal rights from a section of the population, many of whom have lived in the UK for a considerable time.

“We believe that EEA nationals in higher education and research, employed in the UK at the time of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and during any transition period, and their dependants, should be granted an indefinite right to remain and the continuation of their acquired rights,” added Professor Amin.

While the recent decision not to require a fee to be paid for settled status is welcomed by the Academy, there is particular concern at the requirement for EU citizens to have lived continuously in the UK for five years, and the references to and definition of “continuous residence”.

Meanwhile, the recent announcement of European Temporary Leave to Remain in a no-deal scenario had been done with no consultation and inadequate provision for managed implementation. In June 2018 the Government had said that anyone arriving in the UK before January 2021 would have settled or pre-settled status. This new announcement would undermine academic schedules as researchers, fieldworkers and post-graduate students fall foul of the deadlines set out. It also creates a new status category with an additional cost, and with no concrete destination for those applying, or their employing institutions. The Academy advises that the settled status scheme be implemented until December 2020 as previously announced.

The Government’s proposed future immigration system is also highly problematic for UK higher education and research, notably in the inappropriate salary threshold for employment in the UK and the inclusion of EEA/EFTA nationals. The Academy noted that salary level is a poor proxy for skills in higher education and research, especially taking into account regional variations. It is particularly unhelpful for employing research assistants on grants, data technicians, and language teaching assistants.

The Academy said the overriding objective of its critique is to maximise and maintain the diversity, excellence and competitiveness of UK higher education and research for the benefit of the UK as a whole, and for individual students, researchers and staff.

In this respect, the Post-Study Work Visa proposals also need to be addressed, since the UK is now a disappointing prospect for international students and their families. To maintain its competitive edge and reputation, the UK must ensure that its post-study visa offer is commensurate with that of countries like Canada and Australia, the Academy said.

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