Brexit and EU27 academics in the UK – breaking up is hard to do

border-eu-citizens-facebook_social_mediaYou “should now make arrangements to leave” (Home Office)

The UK’s University sector is one of our most valuable national assets” Professor Brian Cox, the University of Manchester academic and TV presenter, told me last week. Brian said that UK higher education “is a genuinely global industry generating billions of pounds in export earnings, one of the necessary foundations of our innovation-led economy and perhaps our strongest soft power asset; political and industrial leaders from all over the world were educated here in the UK.

Which makes it all the more strange why the Government should be, accidentally or deliberately, undermining our Universities. Most of the commentary on Brexit will have on UK Universities has concentrated on issues of funding, research cooperation and students. Much less attention has been paid to what keeps Universities running – academic staff – and what Brexit will mean for the thirty-thousand plus EU academics in the UK. Here are some of their personal experiences and what it means for our Universities.

How this all started for me….

This all started for me when I arrived at a meeting a couple of weeks ago and noticed one of my academic colleagues was visibly distressed.

When I asked what was wrong they said they’d just had a very alarming letter from the Home Office. Having lived and worked here for more than two decades (they’re a national of another EU country) they decided to play it safe after the Brexit vote and apply for leave to remain. Big mistake.

What they got was a highly worrying, threatening, letter from the Home Office saying they had no right to be here and they should “now make arrangements to leave’”. The letter was obviously wrong – they had every right to be here under existing UK law – but that didn’t lessen the emotional impact for my colleague who’s whole future was suddenly potentially up-ended.

You “should now make arrangements to leave”

Like others I had seen similar stories in the press but this was much more ‘real’. I wondered how many other academics might be affected so I turned to ‘Twitter’ to ask and was amazed by the response. The tweet I posted asking for cases was retweeted – mostly by concerned academics – over a thousand times and was viewed over 150,000 times.

People started writing to me with cases and I started digging into the issue.

The first thing that struck me was the level of fear, anger, and disgust, and in some cases resignation, in the responses I got. You will have noticed I have disguised individual cases – that’s because few people are willing to speak out, such is the level of fear about what might happen after Brexit.

Impact on Individuals

Some EU27 academics (along with others) who have been living and working quite happily and legally in the UK for years decided, after the June 23rd result, that they should try to cement their position by applying for one or other of the various routes to permanent residency.

The procedures are daunting and of Kafkaesque complexity – one form runs to 85 pages and requires forms of proof that make acquiring catholic sainthood look simple. As a result many applications are failing – but it is the form of the rejection that is causing much concern. A typical letter from the Home Office says (in part):

“As you appear to have no alternative basis of stay in the United kingdom you should now make arrangements to leave. If you fail to make a voluntary departure a separate decision may be made at a later date to enforce your removal…”

This seems to be a fairly typical ‘prepare to leave’ letter, variations on which have been sent to “failed” applicants – even though they are currently here perfectly legally.

Even more worryingly, the acceptance or rejection of these applications is based on the “Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and regulation 26 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006” to quote the letter again. Even you succeed, all of this will be repealed in the “Great Repeal Bill” proposed by the Government, which could rescind any ‘right to remain’ granted under existing law and regulations.

physics_cox_ics_850x250Brian Cox sums up the situation very well when he told me “we have spent decades – centuries arguably – building a welcoming and open atmosphere in our Universities and, crucially, presenting that image to an increasingly competitive world. We’ve been spectacularly successful; many of the worlds finest researchers and teachers have made the UK their home, in good faith. A few careless words have already damaged our carefully cultivated international reputation, however. I know of few, if any, international academics, from within or outside the EU, who are more comfortable in our country now than they were pre-referendum. This is a recipe for disaster.”

Another academic colleague said “as an academic I’m embarrassed and ashamed of UK Governments stance on EU citizens”.”

One academic told me “the Home Office is hedging its bets because we non-UK [academics] are now effectively hostages …”. A neuro-scientist from the EU at a top UK university reacted with defiance: “for what is worth, I refuse to apply for a piece of paper [leave to remain] that I don’t need and won’t be valid after Brexit – when current law says I don’t need it. It’s just a certificate. They can stick their 85-page form up their arses.”

The level of anxiety is obvious “I’m about to submit my permanent residency application. Any pointers from the rejections you’ve seen so far? Scary times ahead…”. Another said “as an Irish citizen I am assuming the Ireland Act will continue to provide my right to be here. But… “

A policy specialist from Oxford said “people have been turned down for administrative reasons alone. The Home Office looks for any reason to say ‘no’ at the moment.” Or as another, retired, academic put it, this is just “inhuman bureaucracy” at work.

There is also some ‘gallows humor’ about – one EU academic quipped “oh, we’ll just have to apply for asylum, I guess?”

How representative is all this? A recent survey of academics conducted by YouGov for the University and College Union (UCU) found that an overwhelming majority (90%) said Brexit will have a negative impact on UK higher education. Three-quarters (76%) of non-UK EU academics said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education. So even if they are not forced to leave, many probably will anyway.

A third (29%) said they already know of academics leaving the UK, and over two-fifths (44%) said they know of academics who have lost access to research funding as a direct result of Brexit.

Impact on Universities

UK Universities are heavily dependent on academics from the EU.

To cater for our global audience we need to attract the brightest and best and Europe is, unsurprisingly, a major source for such talent. Over 31,000 UK University academics come from the EU – sixteen percent of the total (all figures calculated from the Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2014/15).

But this national figure underestimates just how important EU academics are to our top, global, Universities. The London School of Economics has 38% EU academic staff. Other prominent London Colleges – Imperial, King’s, University College London – have between a quarter and nearly a third. Oxford has 24% and Cambridge 22%. My own University, Manchester has 18% and most of the Russell Group of ‘research universities’ are in the top ranks of EU academic staff employers.

julia-20The LSE’s Interim Director, Professor Julia Black, commented: “LSE is one of the UK’s most global and internationally-renowned universities. The School’s diverse academic community is vital to our success and something of which we are very proud.

The UK’s higher education sector is currently envied across the world, but we fear Brexit poses a very real threat to our capacity to maintain our global standing.  If we make it more difficult for non-British staff and their families to work in the UK, more difficult to attract research funding, or more difficult to collaborate with international partners we could see a situation where more world-leading academics and researchers choose to work in competitor countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, or in other European countries.

The research and ideas our academics generate tackle the world’s most pressing challenges – from climate change to global health to extreme inequality.  In order to be able to continue this important work, we must be allowed to recruit and retain the very best academic staff from around the world.“

EU academics are equally important in the core subject areas that are vital to our long-term economic health. So areas like physics (26%), chemical engineering (25%), biosciences (22%), chemistry (21%) and IT (20%) are all heavily reliant on European talent.

So What?

Our global status isn’t of course just dependent on EU academics – UK experts are our bedrock (70%) – but the other 30% that come from the EU and the rest of the world are an important part of our global status.

Losing this talent – whether through demoralization or deliberate design – would have catastrophic effects. As Brian Cox puts it “Ministers must consider our global reputation before uttering platitudinous sound-bites for domestic consumption, and think much more carefully about how to ensure that the UK remains the best place in the world to educate and to be educated. [UK Universities] are everything the government claims it wants our country to become; a model for a global future.” He added “the current rhetoric is the absolute opposite of what is required. The UK appears, from outside, to be increasingly unwelcoming and backward looking”.” They should be even more careful about the policies they enact and the way they are implemented.

The Home Office’s at best clumsy, at worse malicious, handling of residency claims is causing huge distress and damage to our reputation. I am already hearing cases of EU nationals leaving, or planning to leave, because of the uncertain and unwelcoming future they now face. One academic lawyer I know of has already moved. We don’t know what the eventual outcome will be and how many EU academics we’ll lose now, or in the future, as a result of all this.


If you have an experience you’d like me to know about – all cases treated in complete confidence – please email me on

This post is also appearing on the LSE Brexit Blog 


As a migrant academic (with permanent residency), these stories make me wonder if I would not be better off seeking employment elsewhere.…
26/01/2017, 08:26

and Rokewood added….

@colinrtalbot @mhbeals similar conversation yest with colleague 18yrs here—teaching Mod Langs in tough schools & now inspiring new teachers
26/01/2017, 08:35
This sums up why I’m scared to submit my application for permanent residence.…
26/01/2017, 07:35

another thread…….

@Karin_Penguin also because it couldn’t be valid after we leave Eu? It’s based on eu regulation anyway. What a mess!
26/01/2017, 07:52
@SMerlChest yes, part of me wonders if there’s any point. Thought permanent job wld bring some stability, but can barely plan 2 mths ahead!
26/01/2017, 08:05
@Karin_Penguin it’s just all awful! I’m being penalised for studying at uni and being married to a British citizen #iwanttogetoffthisplanet
26/01/2017, 08:08
@SMerlChest I wish us both good luck (and, ideally, a parliamentary and popular uprising against Article 50).
26/01/2017, 08:28
It’s a corrosion that will affect future generations. By then @DavidDavisMP will be retired on a guaranteed pension…
25/01/2017, 20:56
@Scientists4EU @BrianFLloyd @colinrtalbot a small addendum, there are plenty of “non”academic non-UK EU citizens at U.K. Unis !!
25/01/2017, 21:30
@Schroedinger99 @colinrtalbot @ukhomeoffice my daughter is taking her entire degree in Spain, son hopes to start degree in EU Sept. worried.
25/01/2017, 21:36
@colinrtalbot this is part of our story:… > illustrates the hostile attitude of @ukhomeoffice towards EU citizens
25/01/2017, 18:37



35 thoughts on “Brexit and EU27 academics in the UK – breaking up is hard to do

  1. Colin, while I appreciate that it makes the text slightly longer, at the moment the UK is still in the EU, and all UK nationals are also “from the EU.” So for the sake of precision, could you fix the points where you refer to “EU academics”, but in fact only mean those academics that are nationals of EU countries other than the UK. Perhaps call them “EU-27 academics”? This may seem like nit-picking, but it would highlight the fact that UK citizens stand to lose their EU citizenship.

  2. Thank you for this well-written article.

    And you have only scratched the surface. The ones who are still students, like me… well… we cannot even apply for Permanent Residence Cards or EEA QP permits because of the CSI requirement (this requirement wasn’t present in any of the websites of the British universities), even if before studying we were working.
    The number of students caught in this loophole is huge, thousands at the very least……..

    I’m married to a British citizen and what us Eu spouses we get as a letter from the Home Office says that we have no right to reside in UK solely on the basis of being married to a Brit.

    It’s so awful that I’m actually experiencing panic attacks. Our plan B is to move away once I graduate in a few months. Here it has become horrible. I’ve received the usual ‘go homes’ and even death threats.
    It’s terrible that many of us had decided to make this our permanent home and we’re treated like this.

    1. What an absolutely dreadful situation. I hope you find somewhere much better to live – the UK is not the country I grew up in and I would not recommend it to anyone if I am being truly honest. Keep safe and the best of luck with everything.

      1. Yes I agree, however there are two issues to solve before moving abroad 1) we are home owners w/mortgage – 2) my husband is a British citizen and even if we move to EU, he’ll be in the same position I’m here now. So there’s a lot at stake and mainly we have no idea how to disentangle the whole mess. Thanks, I will try my best to be safe! x

  3. Something I still cannot digest is the fact that our union, UCU, decided not to take a position during the referendum campaign. When the whole sector was campaigning for remain, my Union wasn’t. According to Sally Hunt this was done in order to “supporting academic freedom”. Now, I always thought Unions aim was to protect its members and their rights. Yet, here we are. As a EU citizen I confront the biggest challenge to be able to continue to live, WORK and exercise my academic freedom in this country in nearly two decades. And the same union that passed a motion to discuss a boycott to Israel consider the Brexit referendum too much of a political issue requiring not taking a position. Don’t they understand that not taking a position is taking a position? How could this be not considered a workers protection issue? With friends like these, I’m not too surprised the HO Kafkian procedures have been allowed to operate the way they do.

    1. I was there at the UCU conference with Corbyn in 2016. I wanted to ask a question about the Referendum, he decided to take no questions, but rather went around shaking hands like we were in some damn village. I was not allowed to utter the B word. The Union has failed us in this, it is nothing short of a betrayal.

  4. The colleague in the Kent case also says:

    “Note that I am not often “counted” in official numbers as a potential casualty of this process because I am a USA national; however, I am here on an EEA Residence Card because my first Uni job suggested the better route was via my wife’s EU nationality! Although this was initially less expensive, it took a year after I arrived to be approved, and turned into the nightmare described above when seeking permanent residence…”

  5. This correspondence is clear.There is a serious problem.our EU colleagues are being poorly treated and suffering discrimination.How to alleviate this sad situation?

  6. Another comment:

    Dear Colin,

    In response to your blog post…

    I applied for naturalisation in the summer 2015. I downloaded the form to fill in the moment the 2015 election results were announced.

    I am now a British national, but my family are all on EU passports.

    We plan to leave. I don’t want to be here while this train-wreck evolves and I certainly don’t feel welcome, whatever passport I hold.

    You can share my feelings, but please keep my name confidential.


  7. And from the lead of a science team at a Russell Group University:

    “Regarding the concerns of EU academics here, I’m really concerned for the two on our team. They were recruited, before the June vote, on permanent contracts, as part of a flagship government long term programme.

    They are highly specialised and skilled staff who simply could not be replaced just like that and who are part of a large team, so the whole team will be impacted if we lose them. I know at least one of them has been seeking advice about what to do, and feels upset at the lack of support. The only advice they were offered was to apply for permanent residency.

    Yet when the decision to permanently move to this country was taken, there was no question in anyone’s mind that the UK might not always be part of the EU. They are both EU citizens but not UK. It seems crazy that they are not automatically being granted permanent residency as they already have permanent jobs? I find this unbelievable.

    My other colleague also expressed concern at the devaluation of the pound post June and this is negatively impacting their financial security as they have commitments in their home country.”

  8. I am sorry that so many are feeling anxious, in fact there have been no changes in the law, and it is not for the UK Home Office to be applying any criteria other than that found in the EEA Regulations. While it is clear there will be a cut-off point in the future, no EEA national working in the UK who is currently entitled to a residence permit or a certificate of permanent residence should ever feel under pressure to leave for reasons of the Brexit vote alone. It is probably wise that any permanent resident who does not have the certificate apply for one, and any other EEA national short of having permanent residence applies for a permit. It is inconceivable that holders of these documents will not be transposed into UK law once the country leave the EU. The documents have never been compulsory, and still are not, but they are certainly now something to be pursued in advance of any cut-off date being announced. Wish good fortune to all EEA nationals and their families in these uncertain times. Richard Roberts (Legal Director), Cromwell Wilkes Limited (London)

    1. I wonder what the status is of those non-UK EU nationals who have documents from the 1990’s granting Indefinite Leave to Remain? These obviously pre-date the 2002 Act mentioned above. The Home Office’s response to a recent petition on this (read the repsonse at gives the strong impression that pretty much everybody’s a bargaining chip now!
      I can only echo the sadness and disgust of others posting here.

  9. Colin – it is not just academics that are suffering – i am reading countless horror stories on the FB group The 3 Million If you read the stories there, you will be horrified. Apparently the EU is looking to investigate the appalling treatment of EU citizens in the UK since the Referendum, so it would be helpful if you gather your evidence and submit it to them to aid in their investigation, and put the UK government under pressure to reform their ideas.

  10. Thanks for raising this important issue. I’m not working at a university but, having lived in the UK for nearly three decades with a German passport, am forced to worry about my right to stay with my family and in my home. I would urge everybody, regardless of what passport you have, to support the 3 Million Campaign, including their mass lobby in parliament on 20th February, to defend the rights of all EU residents in the UK:

  11. Another heart-breaking report from an academic colleague:

    “Dear Colin Talbot,

    I read your blog with a lot of interest. You can add my name to your list of distraught EU academics in the UK; together with my wife who works as a specialist therapist in the NHS.

    We are from the Netherlands. My mother was British and therefore Britain has always been part of my life and normally I would have felt very much at home here.

    My wife and I have a Dutch passport and rely on the fact that we are in the UK (almost 20 years) under the EU umbrella of free movement. Therefore we will not be applying for any permanent residency or British citizenship/passport.

    The referendum has changed my feelings about the UK. The indications that there may be a “bureaucratic wall” unhelpful to EU citizens and a government more interested in using us as bargaining chips has made me wonder about trustworthiness. My grandfather has instilled a strong sense of British values and decency in me. My grandmother always reminded me to be proud to be British. I don’t know what happened to this country since being taught these lessons.

    In general it is safe to say that the ties between the Netherlands and the UK are very strong indeed. The response in the Netherlands is many things including disbelief, anxiety but also disgust at what is perceived as madness. I would therefore agree that the international reputation of the UK is at great risk. The national rhetoric and the quarrelsome reactions in the public domain to all things related to the EU is damaging since the whole world is watching. In my work I have experienced how important international collaborations are for research and how much the UK has been attractive for international students. I feel that this may well change. Trust “arrives on foot but gallops off on horseback”.

    I have been surprised how little the reasonable voice has been heared since 23rd June and how easy it has been to shout down any voice that disagrees with a hard Brexit. Our escape is to use our Dutch passports to return back to the Netherlands so we can personally distance ourselves from this very unpleasant experience when it comes to the worst. However, we do have family and friends here and we do not wish them any long term harm. I therefore hope that history will turn out to be different in the end.

    Please treat this email as an anonymous source should you want to use this. I have written this to show my appreciation for the blog and to add my support.”

    1. The 3million campaign is great. But the ” reasonable voice” mentioned above remains very, very faint. So as things stand, even if our non-UK friends, family members and colleagues can overcome administrative hostility, the bad atmosphere will remain. Where is the political project that is both integrationist and tackles the real challenges faced by those who’ve been led to believe that they’ve “lost out” to “foreigners”? Without mobilisation of “radical moderates” around such a programme, the UK will be a bleak place to live and an unattractive destination for mobile talent.

      1. Couldn’t agree more, but where is the re-alignment going to come from?

        The Liberal Democrats have been pushing a more or less correct (and brave) position on Brexit, but they are a long way from recovering from their Coalition experience. They have also, unfortunately, seen this too much as an opportunity to rebuild themselves rather than lead a broad coalition of opposition to Brexit.

        The nationalist parties are hardly a vehicle for this. Labour is a basket case, with the left-right split now compounded by the (different) Leave/Remain split.

        The anti-Trump state visit petition there is a strong internationalist, dare I say ‘globalist’ tendency ‘out there’ – but who is going to organise it and channel it into political advances, which is what ultimately will change things?

  12. Another story:

    “I read your LSE blog on the impact of Brexit on academics with great interest, as I’m also concerned as a EU citizen. I am certainly not going to apply for residency as I’m far too busy (I have a large research team, and I’m involved in European networks), and that includes many journeys outside of the UK that I don’t keep track of religiously.

    Frankly, after many years here, married to a [British] wife and kids born here –and building an entire career since I started as a post doc- it would be tragic to leave but me and other European colleagues watch this act of self destruction with amazement and disbelief .

    If the UK government has any interest in keeping EU academics clear signals will be needed and soon, or people will be looking elsewhere (or rule out the UK to begin with). I totally sympathise with everyone in this situation though, be it shop owners, workers, husbands and wives etc. as for once we’re really all in it together. I heard a story of hospital staff in a NHS hospital nearby leaving to return to mainland Europe only this morning.

    If I moved my group and research out the UK, where would it leave all the people who work with me- post docs, students, technicians? Many are British. Students may finish up somehow, but post docs (some of whom have been in my group for many years) would be left scrambling for new jobs as an entire research area goes.”

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