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The ‘Hostile Environment’, racism, and the value of migrants in UK universities

Number 38: #USSbriefs38

Between the profit machine and the crackdown: value and international Students

On 19 July 2018, the House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology released a report recommending that the Home Office relax its fees and restrictions for international researchers, calling attention in particular to the exclusionary Tier 2 Visa caps, exorbitant fees, and restrictions on time spent outside the UK. One moment in the report is particularly revealing. A section entitled ‘Salary as a proxy for skill’ discusses the Home Office’s decision to exclude workers who make less than £30,000 from those earning an ‘appropriate salary’ for a skilled worker. It also reveals that when the number of Tier 2 visa sponsorship bids exceeds the Home Office’s quota, as it has in recent months, they generally admit only applicants earning £55,000 or higher. The Committee points out that in the case of many academics, ‘relying on salary as a proxy for skill level did not work [because] there were often highly skilled jobs that attracted a low wage’. They point in particular to postdocs, citing the Francis Crick Institute’s explanation that they ‘are highly skilled scientists on relatively low salaries’ and thus often do not meet the £30,000 threshold, despite being crucial to scientific research.

Beyond value: decolonising the university

Lately it seems as if things are looking up for non-EEA academics in the UK. In the wake of the pension strike, the Home Office has added legal strike action to its list of permitted absences: migrants on Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas are now allowed to strike without compromising their right to remain in the UK. And although it is unclear whether the Home Office will accept the Science and Technology Committee’s recommendations for further relaxation of the restrictions on international researchers, these developments are wins for international staff. They have come about at least partly thanks to pressure from groups like ours, as well as new groups like International and Broke that emerged out of the strike. Yet one lesson to take from the above accounts is that we have a long way to go. Looking beyond the experiences of (largely white) international academic staff allows us to see how the frameworks for valuing migrants and their worth — income, REF submissions, GPA, etc. — are violent and unjust.

  • Show support — both financially and politically — for the campaigns of Luqman Onikosi and Ahmed Sedeeq, both of whom need help to pay ongoing legal fees. If you find yourself in the north of England, attend this demo to support Ahmed at his hearing on 20 August 2018 in Bradford. Pass resolutions in your local branches to support such campaigns as they arise in future.
  • Fill out our anonymous survey about how the hostile environment works at universities across the UK, so we can better understand these structures and then publicise the results.
  • Team up with Unis Resist Border Controls. Pass our motion in your branch meetings pledging to support Luqman and Ahmed and resist the hostile environment (email us for a copy), send us information at, follow us on social media, join our meetings (in person or remotely). And look out for our upcoming campaigns.



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A set of papers written by University Staff and Students, on University Staff and Students, for University Staff and Students.