Pay-to-stay predica­ment

In­ter­na­tional staff in the UK need help with visa costs

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Tris­tan Sturm is a lec­turer of hu­man geog­ra­phy at Queen’s Univer­sity Belfast.

The Home Of­fice is mak­ing it very hard for me to lec­ture in the UK. In re­cent years, it has sub­stan­tially in­creased visa and per­ma­nent res­i­dency costs to help sub­sidise bor­der se­cu­rity and dis­suade mi­grants, aca­demics from out­side the Eu­ro­pean Union in­cluded.

In the case of per­ma­nent res­i­dency, or what the Home Of­fice awk­wardly phrases “In­def­i­nite Leave to Re­main” (ILR), the cost has in­creased 59 per cent, from £1,500 to £2,400, since 2015, the year I moved from Canada to North­ern Ire­land.

More­over, to ap­ply, the ap­pli­cant must sur­ren­der their pass­port for up to six months un­less they want to pay £3,000 for same-day ser­vice, which is likely to be a ne­ces­sity for the travel re­quired as an aca­demic.

This is a hefty bill for an early ca­reer re­searcher and costs even more if the re­searcher has de­pen­dants. A child born in the UK to a non-EU worker re­quires a visa, which, de­pend­ing when you had that child, will cost at least £1,200 for a three-year visa.

Add the £600 an­nual health sur­charge and the to­tal cost for a three-mem­ber fam­ily, from child visa to per­ma­nent res­i­dency, is about £9,000.

Such debt dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fects early ca­reer re­searchers whose pay is low rel­a­tive to other fac­ulty. This is es­pe­cially true for the grow­ing num­bers of fac­ulty from work­ing­class back­grounds.

These costs force my fam­ily to con­sider if we can af­ford to have more chil­dren. In some cases, these costs have ag­gra­vated the breakup of fam­i­lies.

Un­til the Home Of­fice re­solves this in­equit-

able pol­icy, UK uni­ver­si­ties must make sig­nif­i­cant pro­vi­sion to at­tract di­verse and world-class staff. How­ever, most UK higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions do not have an of­fi­cial pol­icy to pay for visas or ILR.

If uni­ver­si­ties do pay, it is often only on a re­ten­tion or good­will ba­sis by heads of school.

Such ar­range­ments leave a sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial is­sue at the dis­cre­tion of an in­di­vid­ual, with often stress­ful con­se­quences for staff, and in­con­sis­tent out­comes across schools and fac­ul­ties.

While ini­tial visas are often cov­ered through re­lo­ca­tion cost al­lo­ca­tion, a staff mem­ber can be left to their own re­sources to pay for visa re­newals or ILR.

Brexit has com­pli­cated the mat­ter. Po­ten­tially, new staff hires from EU states postBrexit will also re­quire visas, thereby widen­ing these ex­or­bi­tant costs. This will com­pound the “Brex­o­dus” ef­fect, where a few thou­sand EU aca­demics have al­ready left and many more are con­sid­er­ing leav­ing.

If uni­ver­si­ties are to main­tain their in­ter­na­tional pro­files, cov­er­ing the cost of visas and ILR to re­cruit or re­tain staff will be costly.

But the in­ter­na­tional staff, who often add to in­sti­tu­tional pres­tige, can only con­tinue to en­rich the lives of stu­dents, staff and com­mu­nity alike if they are not put at a se­vere fi­nan­cial dis­ad­van­tage.

Those uni­ver­si­ties that off­set the in­creas­ing bur­den of visa costs will be­come more at­trac­tive, di­verse and in­clu­sive homes for the world’s best schol­ars.

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