A question of fairness

#Weareinternational

We urge Lancaster University to commit to reimbursing all cost of applying for visas, settlement Petition for Indefinite Leave to Remain for International staff and their dependents.

In light of the Brexit referendum, Lancaster University implemented financial and legal support for EU staff (currently 10.83% of LU staff), but failed to address the long-term financial struggles currently facing non-EEA staff (currently 9.19% of LU staff).  This has led to concerns about parity.

In addition, in the past, many non-EEA staff have individually successfully negotiated to have part- or all-fees reimbursed at the Department and Faculty level, but in 2017 a directive from HR forbid HoD and Deans from providing financial support on a case-by-case basis.  This left non-EEA staff to navigate, and finance the application process alone.

This action by HR also calls into question the parity of providing financial support for some, but not other non-EEA staff.  This has labelled as an example for discrimination by UCU, as non-EEA staff at Lancaster University are significantly worse off than their university colleagues simply because of their immigration status.

 

But what about the relocation allowance?

At Lancaster University, provisions are put in place to reimburse Tier 2 (General) visa fees – the most common type of working visa for non-EEA academics – as part of their relocation costs.  With the rising costs of visas and ILR, however, these relocation costs only cover a fraction of the costs associated with relocation of staff and their dependents, and is also only valid for the first 3 years.

Provision of the initial relocation allowance is also not conducted in a transparent manner, where it is not clear to a non-EEA staff member that visa renewals, ILR and other associated visa costs will not be covered in the future when current visas expire.  This leaves non-EEA financially liable for future costs that will allow them to continue working for Lancaster University.

 

The process of Tier 2 visas and Indefinite leave to remain for non-EEA staff at Lancaster University

The costs of all kinds of visas, including ILR, have risen dramatically in recent years.

Prior to resuming employment, non-EEA staff must first obtain a Tier 2 (General) visa – the most common type of working visa for non-EEA academics.  Commonly, this visa is only valid for 3 years, after which it must be ‘renewed’, by applying, and paying for another 3 year visa.  The University currently does not offer financial or legal support associated these visa renewal, which can cost up to £2000 for an individual independent with associated legal costs

And yet, they are essential for non-EAA staff to continue working for the University.

After 5 years, however, non-EEA staff cannot apply for any further visa-renewals. Non-EEA staff must then obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in order to stay in the UK for more than six years and to continue to work for the University.  A non-EEA national who has not applied for ILR after six years on a Tier 2 visa must leave the country and cannot resume employment in the UK for a year.

This is a more complex, and expensive process that also requires staff to incur costs associated with sitting (and studying) for the obligatory ‘Life in the UK’ test (£50/applicant/attempt) and IELTS (English Language) exam fees (£150/applicant/attempt).

And yet, despite it being necessary to obtain ILR to continue employment with the University, Lancaster does not currently provide any legal or financial support to non-EEA staff.

ILR costs currently stand at a minimum of £2,398 per applicant.  These costs are multiplied for staff whose family members (including children) also require a visa.  For a family of four, an ILR application would cost £9592.  This is not including any legal costs that are associated with making an application, and that are becoming essential to navigate the complex application process, and the increasing hostile environment in the UK.  The University offers interest-free loans to assist with ILR costs, but they are still borne in the end by staff.

This is all for the privilege of continuing to work for Lancaster University.

In addition to these costs not currently being covered by the University, the University has made active moves against supporting staff with these staggering costs.

 

UK Universities and the ‘Hostile Environment’

ILR and visa costs are borne in a context in which the effects of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy are acutely felt across many sectors of the British public sphere, including higher education.  Recent revelations about the surveillance, marginalisation, and lack of transparency facing migrant workers in the UK have galvanised public opinion and garnered media attention.  This is especially relevant today as around 12% of British university staff are from outside the EU (9.19% of Lancaster University staff), with the proportion of overseas academics amongst research-only staff reaching 47%.  In British universities, international staff and students are subject to strict, often indiscriminate immigration controls and ever-increasing costs in relation to their immigration status.

In a sector that boasts of its international allure and its diverse community, compliance with the hostile environment brings into question these claims and highlights deep ramifications for equality and diversity on British campuses.  Reimbursing the costs for visas, visa renewals and ILR for international staff and their dependents would be a positive step towards demonstrating Lancaster University’s commitment to international staff, and its place as an internationally competitive organisation.

 

Resources

UK-wide campaign to bring together universities to promote the importance of international staff, students and collaboration for UK universities.

USSBrief #24 written by The International and Broke Campaign

Home Office website outlining the fees faced by non-EEA staff to remain working for Lancaster University

Article written for the Guardian, 24th June 2018

Article published in Nature that outlines the benefits of international staff on research productivity.