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Final Universities UK Response Migration Advisory Committee: Review of Tier 2

Consultations and responses
30 September 2015

Students and staff from outside Europe make a vital and business-critical contribution to UK universities.

International students enhance the diversity of UK universities and contribute over £7bn to the UK economy.

In the face of growing international competition, it is crucially important that the UK remains an attractive destination for international students. An important component of an attractive offer is the availability of accessible post-study work opportunities.

The closure of the Tier 1 Post-Study Work route has had a significant impact on international student recruitment, particularly felt in certain markets, such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Even in markets where the availability of post study work options is not such an important factor in deciding where to study, the perception of the UK as ‘unwelcoming’ to international students is nevertheless highly damaging.

Academics and researchers from outside Europe are a vital component of the workforce within UK universities comprising 11.7 per cent of academic staff alone and significantly higher proportions in a number of subject areas.

It is paramount that the UK remains able to attract the most talented academics and researchers to its universities – failure to do so will impact upon the global reputation and ranking of UK universities, the UK’s research base and staffing levels within strategically important subject areas.

Summary

Students and staff from outside Europe make a vital and business-critical contribution to UK universities. - International students enhance the diversity of UK universities and contribute over £7bn to the UK economy.

In the face of growing international competition, it is crucially important that the UK remains an attractive destination for international students. An important component of an attractive offer is the availability of accessible post-study work opportunities.

The closure of the Tier 1 Post-Study Work route has had a significant impact on international student recruitment, particularly felt in certain markets, such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Even in markets where the availability of post study work options is not such an important factor in deciding where to study, the perception of the UK as ‘unwelcoming’ to international students is nevertheless highly damaging.

Academics and researchers from outside Europe are a vital component of the workforce within UK universities comprising 11.7 per cent of academic staff alone and significantly higher proportions in a number of subject areas.

It is paramount that the UK remains able to attract the most talented academics and researchers to its universities – failure to do so will impact upon the global reputation and ranking of UK universities, the UK’s research base and staffing levels within strategically important subject areas.

The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) works well overall for HEIs and the exemption for switchers from Tier 4 to Tier 2 is welcomed, although more flexibility for employers is needed.

The recent breaches of the Tier 2 cap are of real concern to the sector. Care must be taken to ensure Tier 2 migrant workers of greatest value to the economy are prioritised within the system, for example by continued prioritisation for those employed within PhD SOC codes.

Universities UK has presented a strong case for researchers and academics employed within Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) under a PhD SOC code to be contained within the ‘shortage occupation’ or ‘highly specialised expert’ categories. It should, however, be recognised that restricting recruitment within the Tier 2 visa route to these two categories would severely restrict the ability of graduate employers to hire talented and highly skilled non-EEA staff. UUK would therefore urge caution on the adoption of such an approach.

UUK is concerned that the introduction of a skills levy is likely to present an additional disincentive for businesses to employ international graduates.

Should a skills levy be introduced, it is suggested that UK universities, in recognition of their significant contribution to education, training and skills development, might be exempt from such a charge.

The ability for dependant partners to work whilst in the UK is a significant factor for academics in deciding whether or not to come to the UK, and many dependants of Tier 2 workers employed in UK universities are themselves working in highly skilled occupations.

Restricting the rights of dependant workers would not only compromise the UK’s ability to attract highly skilled academic staff, but the UK economy would also lose out on the valuable skills sets that their dependant partners may bring.

UUK therefore believes that the right approach is to enable highly skilled dependants of Tier 2 workers to retain unfettered access to the UK labour market, provided they are employed in a NQF6 level role, whether full- or part-time.

Overall, notwithstanding concern about the recent breaches of the cap, the current Tier 2 mechanism generally works fairly well for HEIs. Universities would therefore resist any immediate further changes, as constant rules amendments are unhelpful and destabilising for all employers. Any future changes to the Tier 2 (General) route should take into account the general principles of fairness and the significant existing restrictions inherent in this route.

Universities UK would urge the Migration Advisory Committee to consider the evidence provided in this response alongside Universities UK’s and UCEA’s responses to the Tier 2 salary threshold consultation rather than in isolation. The UUK response is attached at Annexe A to this submission.

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