Proposals for reform of student immigration

Not very welcoming

Following the fun and games with the Tier 1 and 2 changes which may yet serve to keep the best academics out of the UK, the government has now turned its attention to Tier 4, students. According to the UK Border Agency , which is launching a brief consultation on proposed changes:

The government intends to reduce annual net migration to the UK to sustainable levels, in the tens of thousands a year. It has made clear that it expects the student route to make its contribution towards reducing net migration to the UK.

Students now represent the largest proportion of non-EU net migration. We need to ensure that the number of international students coming to the UK is broadly in balance with the number leaving.

The government’s policy aim is to ensure that only genuine students who are committed to their academic study come to the UK, with a presumption that upon completion they will leave promptly. This consultation sets out our proposals for achieving this aim.

You can respond online to this consultation here. (It is not entirely reassuring that UKBA is using survey monkey for this rather important consultation. At least it’s cheap I suppose.)

Commenting on the launch of the consultation, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:

“It is crucial that the UK continues to attract the very best academics and students from around the world if we are to maintain our global standing in higher education. There is a fierce global market for the best academic talent, and our track record in attracting international staff and students has made a very important contribution to the considerable success of UK higher education to date.

“Changes which make the visa regime stricter can severely diminish the international attractiveness of a nation’s universities. It is crucial that the immigration system continues to support the efforts of our leading universities to attract talented people who have a legitimate interest in studying, teaching, or carrying out research here.

Universities are a big export business, bringing in £5.3 billion a year to the UK economy each year (according to UUK). The consequences of this change could be disastrous. Surely we should be seeking to sustain this rather than seeking to turn off the tap?

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More visa uncertainty

Position on visas still not clear

The Guardian has a story on the latest government position on changes to the visa regime.

Whilst on the face of it there does seem to be some movement in response to the concerns expressed by universities, there are still significant uncertainties:

But young scientists applying for visas may face serious difficulties because their incomes are often so low. Previously an MBA or a £150,000 salary guaranteed enough points to secure a visa, but a PhD scientist on a typical academic salary fell short. Scientists are concerned that the government will fail to address this disparity under the new scheme. A further problem is that scientists are awarded three-year visas for posts that can last much longer, forcing institutes to use two consecutive visas for each researcher.

“The average postdoc here lasts four or five years, so each consumes two slots and that is crazy. There are people here who are very nervous about whether they will be allowed to stay and finish their work,” Rigby said. “It is bound to be a disincentive for bright young things to come to this country.”
visa
Catherine Marston, policy adviser at the Universities and Colleges Union, echoed Rigby’s concerns. “It causes difficulties for people who are already here in the UK. If their visa runs out, they will use up one of your allocation if you decide to support them. If you don’t decide to support them they will have to leave the country.”

Professor Rigby said the government must revise its “one size fits all” approach to immigration. He said the rules should be changed to accommodate scientists by giving PhDs more points and awarding visas for the full duration of an academic post.

The uncertainty doesn’t help. It sends out the signal that UK HE is not open for business. The proposed changes to student visas are likely to exacerbate this. Hard times indeed.

NB, Catherine Marston is the most excellent policy advisor at Universities UK, not UCU as stated in the report.

Restricting international staff recruitment by universities

The problems with the Tier 2 cap

The THE recently carried a story about the problems being caused by the cap on immigration from non-EU countries which is particularly affecting universities:

The UK Border Agency has given each university a quota on recruitment from non-European Union countries under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration system, which covers “skilled workers”. The quotas cover new visas – and renewals for existing staff – between 19 July 2010 and 31 March 2011, when the permanent cap will be imposed.

The government’s interim immigration cap has left one of the UK’s major research universities able to recruit or keep only 78 “skilled” overseas academics this year – and the permanent cap could bring further reductions.

The institution in the THE report is UCL but Nottingham is in almost exactly the same position. We are a global university operating in a global market. We have to recruit the most talented academics and researchers, wherever they come from, in order to sustain our international competitiveness. It is only by sustaining and advancing our excellence in research, teaching and knowledge transfer that we can deliver what the country demands from a leading university. Measures which hamper our ability to recruit the best staff inevitably risk jeopardising the success of this enterprise and the efforts of other leading UK universities. At a time when the country desperately needs its universities, which are among the UK’s best export businesses, to perform to capacity, it seems perverse to put such constraints on us. The UK’s immigration policy needs to be robust and transparent but it will be counterproductive if it reduces the competitiveness of such an important export industry as higher education.

Universities UK has been working hard to persuade government to think again and the University of Nottingham has also been talking to our local MPs, resulting in my first (and, in all likelihood, last) appearance in Hansard.