Ministers write to Education Secretary to ask for clarity on rules for EU students following Brexit.
Ministers have demanded answers from the UK Government on its post-Brexit immigration scheme.
In the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the UK Government proposes students can obtain leave to remain for only three years, meaning prospective students applying to Scottish universities will have no guarantee they will be able to complete their four year undergraduate courses.
Following reports yesterday that the UK Government would find a “solution”, Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead has written to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson to ask for clarity.
Mr Lochhead said:
“The three-year non-extendable time limit will have serious consequences for Scottish institutions, putting them at a competitive disadvantage. It is likely to discourage EU citizens from applying to Scottish universities as there is no guarantee they will be able to complete their courses.
“This is clearly an issue which needs to be resolved and reports now suggest that EU students at Scottish universities will be able to complete their degrees after Brexit. We need to know how, and the UK Government must publish its policy and disclose full details to the Scottish Government and Scotland’s higher education sector.”
The full text of the letter is below.
I note your comments in Glasgow yesterday about the impact of no deal immigration arrangements for EU citizens who arrive after Brexit.
Scottish Universities are understandably concerned about the impact of the proposed three year European Temporary Leave to Remain proposal. The policy as set out initially by the UK Government in February and then formally announced by the new Government earlier this month will have a severe negative impact on the higher education sector in Scotland where the majority of undergraduate courses are four years in length.
My colleague Ben Macpherson and I wrote to the then Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, in February setting out our significant concerns about the impact of this proposal - concerns which we also raised in person in meetings with UK Ministers. While we are still awaiting a formal response to our letter, we were given some reassurance by Ms Nokes that our concerns would be addressed. However, these concerns were not addressed, the views of the Scottish Government were not sought in the development of this policy, in spite of the commitment to meaningful engagement received repeatedly from the Home Office, and Scottish Government Ministers were given no notice of the impending publication of this policy.
Scottish Government Ministers have consistently raised concerns about the impact of this proposal but we are not alone. These concerns have also been echoed by the Russell Group who issued a press release on 4 September stating that ‘under these proposals EU students arriving after 31st October and looking to enrol on courses that are longer than 3 years in length – including medicine and engineering courses, most PhD programmes and all undergraduate degrees in Scotland – would have no guarantee of being able to remain in the UK long enough to complete their course.’
These concerns flow directly from the reality of the UK Government’s published policy. To suggest that highlighting legitimate concerns about the impact of UK Government policy is ‘scaremongering’ is deeply unhelpful.
There is clearly an issue here and an issue which needs to be resolved. Your commitment in your speech yesterday to delivering such a ‘solution’ clearly recognises the fact that there is currently a problem.
The three-year non-extendable time limit will have serious consequences for Scottish institutions, putting them at a competitive disadvantage with regards to undergraduate recruitment. Due to the fact that the criteria for extension are yet to be published and the risk for undergraduates that an extension could be refused, this policy, and the uncertainty it creates, is likely to discourage EU citizens applying to Scottish universities as there is no guarantee they will be able to complete their courses.
This is the reality. It is deeply disappointing that there was no engagement with Scottish Government Ministers during the development of this policy otherwise this situation may have been identified and addressed prior to publication. It is even more disappointing that when Scottish Government Ministers and others raised concerns about the impact of this policy earlier in the year that these concerns were not addressed and the policy proposals amended.
Earlier this month my colleague Ben Macpherson and I wrote to Brandon Lewis seeking information on the measures the Home Office intends to take to address these issues and any equality impact assessment which was undertaken when developing this policy.
We are still awaiting a response from the Home Office. We have been waiting for a reply to our previous request for clarification for seven months. The commitment that you gave yesterday to finding a solution to this issue is welcome but it is not the first time we have receive such a commitment from a UK Minister and such a solution has not yet been identified.
We are sure you will agree that EU citizens contribute a huge amount to our economy, society and culture and are a vital component of the higher education sector in Scotland. We urge the UK Government to reconsider this policy and provide certainty by guaranteeing the provisions for EU citizens set out in the Withdrawal Agreement even in the event of a no-deal.
The Scottish Government maintains that the UK Government should immediately rule out no-deal and seek an extension to the Article 50 process.
We would be grateful if you could consider these issues as a matter of urgency and look forward to your prompt response.
I am copying this letter to the Minister of State for the Home Office Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Education for Wales Kirsty Williams, Counsel General and Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development Ben Macpherson and the Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack.