Proposal for a Skills Permit

14 September 2018

The Russell Group of universities is calling on the Government to introduce a new European Skills Permit for qualified workers and students to protect the UK’s ability to attract European talent after Brexit and help rebuild public confidence in the immigration system.

The Government has made clear that freedom of movement for European Economic Area (EEA) migrants will end when the Brexit transition period concludes in December 2020. At this point new immigration arrangements will be needed for EEA migrants.

However, as we wait for the Home Office to set out its plans, continued uncertainty raises serious problems for employers across the UK. In August the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that 40% of UK firms are struggling to meet their recruitment needs following a steep drop in European migration.[1] At Russell Group universities EEA migrants account for around a quarter of academics and tens of thousands of students studying here each year.

The Russell Group’s proposal for a new European Skills Permit would boost the country’s knowledge economy at a time when the UK needs to become more competitive. It aims to support the UK’s businesses as much as its universities and would be available to skilled workers across all sectors as well as students.

Man and woman looking at a machine

The Permit would be available to qualified workers able to demonstrate a job offer or bring a research grant to the UK, and to students with a place at an accredited institution. Successful applicants would have the right to work or study in the UK for up to five years. While the Permit is aimed at migrants who are skilled or studying, it could sit alongside any route introduced by the Government for lower skilled work in areas where employers face clear shortages.

All successful applicants would need to prove their identity, EEA nationality and pass standard Government criminality checks, and would be registered. The Russell Group is urging the Government to explore a secure system of personalised, digital accounts which could draw on appropriate government databases such as HMRC records and border checks. The new system could build on the Settlement Scheme IT platform already in development for EU nationals currently living here and those who will arrive before the end of transition. 

Appropriate and enforceable safeguards would be needed to ensure permit holders are suitably qualified, are genuinely working or studying and do not stay longer than they are permitted. Recent exit checks data released by the Government confirms that 97% of skilled workers and students requiring visas comply with their terms and depart the UK on time.[2]

Russell Group Chief Executive Dr Tim Bradshaw said:

“European migrants bring huge benefits to the UK’s knowledge economy. This includes the thousands working in high growth industries, such as engineering and tech; the leading academics in our universities, whether Cypriot Nobel Prize-winning economists or pioneering Romanian neuroscientists; and the tens of thousands of European students choosing to study here each year. 

“The Prime Minister has made clear that freedom of movement will end whether we have a Brexit deal or not. So the challenge for the Government will be crafting new immigration arrangements which support this inward stream of talent while commanding the confidence of the British people. And soon. As things stand, skilled Europeans considering coming here in the next few years face a visa vacuum and may head elsewhere, while the UK misses out.”

The Russell Group is putting forward its proposal amid concerns the Home Office may seek to include EEA nationals in the current points-based system for migrants from other parts of the world.

Currently the UK issues Tier 2 visas for skilled workers and Tier 4 visas for students with organisations such as businesses, universities, schools and charities acting as sponsors, monitoring visa compliance and reporting changes in an individual’s circumstances to the Home Office. The rules have become increasingly complicated and change frequently. The CBI has stressed that the Tier 2 system is a “prohibitively complex, time consuming and expensive process to navigate”.[3]

Asking these organisations to assume similar sponsorship responsibilities for EEA migrants would be unrealistic and unsustainable and, as a result, would not succeed, further undermining public confidence in the immigration system. The European Skills Permit instead works on a new balance of responsibility, in which greater expectations are placed on individuals to keep their personal information up to date, employers and other organisations make robust checks, and the Home Office is able to oversee the system effectively and take enforcement action where necessary.

Dr Bradshaw added: 

“Some in Whitehall may be tempted to put EEA nationals into the current points-based system, but doing so would push these routes past breaking point. This system was designed to sit alongside free movement, not to replace it. 

“Far better the Government introduces a new, robust and intelligent immigration arrangement for our European partners. The Permit we are proposing would serve the UK’s clear economic interests, enabling the dynamic flow of people and ideas that will be so central to future growth.”



[3] CBI ‘Open and Controlled: A New Approach to Immigration after Brexit’


European Skills Permit




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