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Building an immigration system for UK architecture

Building an immigration system for UK architecture

10 January 2019

International architects have made a vital contribution to the success of British architecture. New research published by the RIBA, Powered by people: Building an immigration system for UK architecture, shows how the sector’s global and diverse workforce has enriched British practice through unrivalled diversity in skills and supported British architecture’s international exporting prominence through language skills and global knowledge. Skilled migration has turned the UK into a global architectural powerhouse.

At the end of 2018, the government finally published its long-awaited White Paper on the future immigration system, confirming its intention to replace freedom of movement from the EU with a new, skills-based immigration system after Brexit. The government will be consulting on the proposals in its White Paper – RIBA’s report sets out the steps that ministers must take to ensure that this new system works for UK architecture, benefits the public and supports the wider economy.

Last year RIBA held four roundtables across the country with international architects and surveyed over 600 non-UK nationals working in the sector to learn more about their experiences working in the UK and their views on how the future immigration system can best support the sector to continue benefiting from international talent. This feedback will give government vital insight into the challenges and opportunities that architects face when coming to live and work in the UK and into the challenges that many younger European architects, international students and recent graduates who come to the UK after the end of free movement may face, when coming into contact with the immigration system for the first time.

When we asked architects what they wanted to see from the new immigration system, their answer was clear – flexibility. The UK’s immigration regime, built to control numbers with blunt instruments like salary thresholds and visa caps, is long overdue for reform and simply extending it to EU nationals would be a disaster – we need to see a wholesale redesign after Brexit and build a system that is as responsive and flexible as the people we hope to attract to the UK; a system which allows them to travel and work internationally or change jobs in the UK without additional burden.

RIBA is also calling on government to deliver a sensible and streamlined system for businesses – scrapping the cap on the number of visas issued every year, abolishing bureaucratic restrictions and high charges which hit smaller practices hardest, and introducing regional flexibility in salary thresholds to avoid a situation where only the largest, London-based practices can benefit from skilled international talent.

European architects and those from further afield who are living here already must also be given the confidence to plan their future with certainty and clarity if we are to avoid a damaging drop in migration that would only hurt the sector; 47% of those we surveyed said they had considered leaving the UK following the EU referendum. RIBA is calling on ministers to do more to communicate its ‘settled status’ scheme to EU nationals and make the application process as streamlined and simple as possible.

Ensuring that the UK continues to be a magnet for the best talent from around the world – and continues to be an open, welcoming place – is vital for the continued success of our profession after Brexit. RIBA is committed to making sure the voices and experiences of international architects, from the EU and the rest of the world, are heard in the Brexit debate, and we will continue to make the case to Government for an immigration system which welcomes skilled architects to the UK and supports practices to thrive.

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