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UCU seeks guarantees on EU citizens' rights in event of no-deal Brexit

29 August 2019

The Prime Minister must provide urgent assurances about the rights of EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit, UCU has urged today.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that contradictory statements from the Home Office about freedom of movement in a no-deal scenario had caused unacceptable levels of confusion and uncertainty for EU citizens living in the UK. She said many EU citizens are now unclear about whether they will be allowed to return home to the UK if they are travelling abroad after exit day, and called for "concrete assurances" about their rights.

The letter goes on to say that restricting the right of EU citizens to work and study in the UK will intensify the 'hostile environment' facing migrants, damage the world-leading research and teaching provided by UCU members, and make it harder to attract EU academics to work in our universities.

UCU said EU citizens make an invaluable contribution to the UK's further and higher education sector but the government's approach to Brexit showed scant regard for the impact which a no-deal scenario would have on them.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The government appears to be steering the UK towards a no-deal Brexit with scant regard for the impact that this would have on the thousands of EU citizens who work and study in the UK.

'Staff and students from around the EU make an invaluable contribution to our further and higher education sectors. The level of confusion and uncertainty which they currently face is totally unacceptable and we need urgent guarantees of their rights in the event of a no-deal.'

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing in my capacity as general secretary of the University and College Union to seek assurances about the status of non-UK EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Home Secretary recently announced that the government hopes to end freedom of movement immediately should the UK leave the EU with no deal on 31 October. However, the Home Office's media factsheet claims that EU citizens currently residing in the UK will not be affected by such a move in a no-deal scenario. These contradictory statements have caused significant confusion and have done little to assuage the obvious concerns and objections that have been raised about the impact of no-deal on EU citizens' rights.

Many EU citizens are now concerned that if they travel abroad and try to return after the exit date they will be denied re-entry. They are also concerned about travelling abroad after the UK has left the EU in case they are not allowed to come back, especially if they are among the millions who have not yet been granted settled status through the EU Settlement Scheme.

This level of uncertainty for EU citizens is unacceptable. It reveals the government's complete disregard for EU nationals as workers and citizens, and has only been intensified by the government's decision to prorogue parliament, potentially making a no-deal exit more likely.

Restricting the right of EU citizens to work and study in the UK will damage the important work conducted by UCU members in post-16 education, damage the world-leading research and teaching provided by UCU members, and make it harder to attract the EU's leading academics to work in and with our universities. It will also intensify the "hostile environment" that the government has already been responsible for fostering.

The scale of the issue is huge; as a trade union, we represent thousands of staff from the EU in further and higher education who are deeply concerned about their futures. In the higher education sector alone, 12% of staff, and 18% of academic staff, are from other parts of the EU.

Our education sector needs to be more, not less, open to immigration from all parts of the world. It is already disproportionately expensive for non-UK nationals to live and work here. It is unacceptable and morally reprehensible that their security is now further threatened by this government's headlong pursuit of a no deal Brexit.

I would welcome a conversation with you about the ways in which further and higher education would benefit from a truly inclusive, global immigration policy. For now, UCU needs concrete assurances that your government will protect the rights of EU citizens from 31 October onwards.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Grady
General Secretary

Last updated: 17 September 2019