Immigration should support university recruitment, poll of public suggests

A poll for Universities UK suggests broad support for a points-based system that favours academics, scientists and researchers

The UK’s immigration system should preference highly skilled not highly paid university staff after Brexit, a new poll suggests.

In a survey by Savanta ComRes for Universities UK (UUK), 4,000 British adults were asked their opinions on a new points-based immigration system.

Almost nine in 10 said the UK should attract highly skilled university staff after Brexit versus only 3% that said it should attract those that are highly paid.

The government has proposed a minimum salary threshold of £30,000 for skilled immigrants seeking a five-year visa.

Seven in 10 think the points-based system should be designed so scientists, academics and support staff score highly and eight in 10 agreed the UK should compete with other major economies to attract university staff.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of UUK, said: “Technicians, researchers, and language assistants are all vital in supporting both high-quality teaching and innovative research at our universities. These skilled roles are critical to the ongoing success of our universities.

“As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is more vital than ever that the UK remains a world leader in science and research and continues to attract international talent at different stages of their careers – from support staff and technicians to Nobel Prize winners.”

He said the poll “shows the strength of feeling” that Britain should welcome immigrants for their skills and not their income. He added that UUK was calling for a lower threshold of £21,000 to allow the higher education sector to recruit the technical and support staff they need.

According to The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, this £30,000 salary threshold is already in place for experienced workers from non-EU countries seeking a tier 2 visa (a general work permit), but this would be extended to EU countries after Brexit.

The Observatory reports that only 3% of all higher education teaching professionals currently working in the UK earn less than the £30,000. This figure does not include technicians and support staff.

Only 10% of full-time academic staff in the UK earn less than £33,518, data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (Hesa) shows, but precise figures below £30,000 are not available.

According to Prospects, a careers and recruitment website that works closely with HE, a university laboratory technician – one of the roles flagged in Mr Jarvis’s statement – earns on average between £22,000 and £28,000.

A freedom of information (FOI) request by the Observatory found that 25% of tier 2 visas granted to non-EU citizens were paid less than £30,000 in 2018 because a number of public service occupations – like nurses, paramedics and some secondary school teachers – are excluded from these rules.

Non-EU workers under the age of 26 and those who have switched from a study visa must clear a £20,800 salary threshold for the first three years of their stay, before needing to clear the higher £30,000 threshold.


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