International staff in the UK need help with visa costs
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.