Friday, October 08, 2010

Immigration restrictions on academics in the UK

The Times Higher reports new quotas on overseas academic recruitment here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The coalition government's immigration cap will restrict some universities to hiring fewer than 10 overseas academics this year and may damage the UK's research capacity, critics have said. Since the government announced its interim cap on immigration from non-European Union countries, the UK Border Agency has told universities that it will impose strict quotas for visas granted under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration system, which covers "skilled" workers. The quotas cover recruitment between 19 July this year and 31 March 2011, when a permanent cap is likely to be imposed. For some universities, the quotas were calculated on a 15 per cent reduction from the number of Tier 2 recruits in the corresponding period the previous year.

However, Newcastle University reported that it had been handed a 50 per cent cut. Veryan Johnston, Newcastle's executive director of human resources, said the university was given a quota of 28 staff, based on a figure of 56 the previous year. "We are having to monitor this very carefully and day by day to make sure our heads of faculty and pro vice-chancellors understand the potential impact on their areas," she said. The quotas cover not only visas for new recruits but also renewals for existing staff. Ms Johnston said that this meant institutions "could lose a key researcher at a critical time". [. . .]"

If this is true, then it is very worrying news. At a time where universities seek to recruit the best staff, this is an unwelcome policy change from government. Let us hope this policy is very short lived.


meditations71 said...

This seems bizarre. If this is actually how the immigration cap is going to be implemented it is an own goal by the government.

Clearly the intent was to do what other competitive countries are doing: limit unskilled immigration where necessary (for economic and other reasons) and, if anything, emphasise and facilitate immigration of skilled workers in key sectors.

One would think it is very difficult to argue that immigrating academics with key competences sufficient to ensure them jobs in a very competitive higher education job market would somehow harm the economy or social fabric.

There is nothing wrong per se with a cap on immigration, or a stated goal to bring total immigration down. But it has to be a carefully crafted policy that does not harm competitiveness in sectors where the international labour market is key to supplying the skills needed.

Matt said...

An especially sad thing about this is that, in the case of “skilled” immigrants(*), there is a very strong consensus that it’s a win-win situation, one where both the immigrant and the host-country and expect to benefit. So, this makes no economic sense. And, intentionally recruiting from a limited pool will always give you a weaker applicant profile, so it also makes no academic sense. Just a terrible idea all around.

(*)”Skilled” needs to be in scare-quotes here, at least to some degree, as there is a fair amount of debate about how “skills” should be determined for the relevant comparisons, but I expect that a university professor would count as “skilled” on any account. With “unskilled” workers the economic case is less clear-cut, and depends heavily on a number of different factors. There are arguments other than the economic ones for various sorts of immigration benefits, but those are often what’s used to justify this sort of limit on visas, so it’s important to see that such arguments clearly tell against such limits in this sort of case.

The Brooks Blog said...

I agree: this is an own goal. Immigration by "skilled" workers is something that should be encouraged. It is perhaps difficult enough to satisfy the points-entry requirement, but to be denied a post at a specific university because that university has already hired x number of non-EU academics in a particular year? This is truly worrying.