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Points-based immigration

The last Labour government embarked on a major attack on the civil liberties of staff and students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Since the election of the coalition government in 2010, there have been a number of changes to the system, introducing further restrictions, and increasing the burden on institutions. This includes the imposition of a cap on the number of non-EEA migrants permitted to enter the UK.

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The immigration cap in place since March 2011 has the following consequences:

  • all educational institutions wishing to bring in international students or staff must hold 'Highly trusted sponsor' status, tightening the vetting power of the UKBA over the educational sector
  • international students on courses shorter than 12 months can no longer bring dependants into the country
  • the scrapping of the Post-Study Work Scheme, no longer automatically allowing non-EEA graduates to work in the country for two years after the end of their studies
  • an average 15% cap on the 'Certifi­cates of Sponsorship' delivered to educational sponsors. This affects institutions' ability to choose staff according to their academic and research priorities, forcing them to work within UKBA 'quotas' instead and restricting their academic freedom.

This tightening of restrictions was followed in August 2012 by the UKBA decision to revoke the 'Highly trusted sponsor' status of London Metropolitan University (a decision reversed in April 2013), which increased an atmosphere of paranoia among many institutions, fearful of similarly losing their 'highly trusted' status. Many thus responded by introducing more heavy-handed procedures for monitoring the performance, behaviour and activity of international staff and students.

These procedures impact not only on international staff who are subject to monitoring but to all staff requested to implement procedures to monitor international students. This includes monitoring of attendance and performance (often against arbitrary benchmarks that do not apply to UK/EEA students).

UCU is opposed to the immigration cap and the restrictions it places on international staff and student recruitment.


New : New icon See our updated Guidance on Points Based Immigration


'The new points based immigration system sits in line with policies seeking increased income from international students, exposing the UK brand as interested in money and not people. The claim of institutions becoming "international" becomes nothing of the sort, as responsibility shifts towards surveillance and removal, and away from welcome and cultural exchange. Southampton University UCU opposes the introduction of the points based immigration system and supports the motion of the UCU black members' conference denouncing its introduction.'
Dennis Wong, Southampton UCU branch


Concerns for UCU

The points based immigration system launched by the UK government in 2008 introduced new restrictions on workers and students entering the UK from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). This created a number of obligations for post-16 education institutions, restricting their ability to recruit and retain international staff and introducing new monitoring requirements in relation to international students. UCU remains strongly opposed to the points based system, which, we believe, discriminates against non-EEA nationals and damages the relationship of trust between staff and students.

The new immigration regime is having a damaging impact on the international reputation of UK education. International students face stringent financial requirements and are now subject to quotas which make it increasingly difficult to enter the UK educational system. International student numbers have dropped and potential applicants are now being put off by the message that they are unwelcome and by reports of the discriminatory treatment that will face them if they come to the UK.

International students bring widespread benefits to the UK. The government inclusion of them in their immigration number controls is at great cost to the UK. UCU strongly believes that international student numbers should be removed from the government calculations of its migration targets. This is a view shared by sector bodies, and also the chair of five cross-party parliamentary committees who wrote to the prime minister in January 2013 requesting that international students be removed from net migration targets. Education institutions across the UK should be focusing on the campaign to remove students from these arbitrary numerical controls

UCU policy - key principles

  1. Where members are asked to implement separate monitoring procedures for international staff and students, branches and local associations should remind institutions, in line with UCU policy that differential treatment of students or staff due to their place of origin, nationality or citizenship may amount to discrimination on the grounds of race. This is unlawful under the Equality Act (2010).
  2. Branches may wish to consider referring the institution to the General Duty of the Public Sector Equality Duty to ascertain whether the college/university has considered its equality obligations properly in policy formulation with regard to overseas staff and students.
  3. To operate a system of targeted monitoring of students or staff would make UCU members complicit in a discriminatory process, and potentially open to legal challenge. A mistaken confirmation of another person's identity or eligibility by an individual employee could trigger legal proceedings against that member of staff.
  4. The confirmation of another person's identity on the basis of official documents, and the declaration of satisfaction regarding their right to residency or employment, are difficult judgements that require substantial training and experience.
  5. UCU members are generally not trained to assess the legality or otherwise of documents relating to nationality nor can they be held responsible for the robustness or otherwise of the monitoring system that the institution has imposed.
  6. Contracts generally do not include responsibility for immigration monitoring, which is part of the work of the UKBA, and staff cannot, under the terms of contracts, be asked to act in that capacity. To comply with a request to operate such a system would constitute, potentially, an agreement by individual staff to the alteration of our contracts to include monitoring for immigration purposes. UCU members are not contracted as immigration officers for the UKBA.
  7. There are highly damaging educational consequences that will result from this process, including deterring overseas students and overseas colleagues from coming to the UK. Potentially creating a climate of suspicion between students and students and between staff and students. Students and staff need to have a relationship of trust and mutual respect and this will be undermined.
  8. An instruction for staff to undertake 'policing' activities in relation to their students could create a climate of hostility towards staff undertaking these activities may also put the safety of staff at risk.
  9. Institutions should be reminded that the UKBA wrote to HE sector bodies in February 2013 (see appendix 2) clarifying that institutions were not obliged to implement separate monitoring systems for international students or to introduce physical checks in order to comply with UKBA rules.
  10. The letter dated 15 February 2013 clarified that the UKBA does 'not prescribe a particular monitoring or record-keeping system due to the number and diverse range of education providers licensed under Tier 4' and that UKBA attendance monitoring policy 'does not automatically require sponsors to create separate monitoring systems for international students.' As long as HEIs are operating sufficient system procedures to monitor student attendance and engagement with their studies, separate procedures for international students are therefore not required.
  11. Institutions sponsoring international students are no longer required to inform the UKBA when a student misses a number of expected contacts. However, the UKBA needs to be informed where the institution has withdrawn sponsorship from the student, as a result of the student no longer engaging in their studies either through the student withdrawing from their studies of the college/university removing them.
  12. Where institutions go beyond what is required by UKBA rules in monitoring and checking international students, they are not only engaging in discriminatory behaviour but also risk damaging the international reputation of the institution and becoming a less attractive option for international students seeking to study in the UK (international students may well choose which institution to study at on the basis of which institution has the least draconian and discriminatory procedures for monitoring their attendance and engagement with their studies).

See motion and motions passed during UCU Congress 2009.

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