Changes to freedom of movement after Brexit: implications for Higher Education in Wales

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If the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union, significant changes will likely be made to the freedom of movement of people. It would be easy to assume that the immigration needs of the UK are homogenous for all its regions, countries and key sectors. However, the ‘Changes to freedom of movement after Brexit – the implications for Wales’ report (‘the Report’) is a timely reminder of the challenges and issues which distinguishes the needs of Wales within a post-Brexit Britain.

Following the end of freedom of movement, the current UK government seems certain to impose a £30,000 annual salary threshold for migrant workers. These proposals have faced criticism, with the Report stressing categorically that it is too high. £30,000 is notably higher than the median salary in Wales, meaning that up to two thirds of EU workers currently living and working here would fail to meet the threshold under the proposed new scheme. This threshold is, at best, blind to the economic differences within the Welsh economy compared to the rest of the UK and poses a threat to a number of key sectors in Wales, including Higher Education.

Many large stakeholders in key sectors, such as healthcare and higher education, contributed to the consultation. The respondents included the General Medical Council, the Welsh-France Business Forum and Universities Wales. The striking recommendation drawn from these contributors was that the Welsh government must create a central hub of information on immigration policy which is capable of signposting interested parties to authoritative information. This would result in a reduction in Brexit related uncertainty and would allow adequate planning and preparation for vital stakeholders in the Welsh economy.

Specifically, Universities Wales outlined their concerns over how changes to freedom of movement after Brexit will create issues in planning for teaching programmes, and building adequate workforces to provide their educational services. Specifically, the requirements for students to apply for a three-year temporary “leave to remain” visa offers no clarity to those studying beyond the typical three-year period. Universities Wales also said that UK/EU student mobility generally will come under threat, particularly if EU students will no longer benefit from student loan funding after 2021/22.

Additionally, Cardiff University and Universities Wales voiced their concerns regarding the future of student mobility under the Erasmus+ scheme. These contributors outlined the importance of resolving this issue 18 months before full effective withdrawal, in order to make the necessary planning arrangements and avoid participating students being denied opportunity due to the ongoing uncertainty. The voices of Higher Education stakeholders are united in believing that preserving the principles of the Erasmus scheme is a vital element to the ‘outward and inward mobility’ needed for the Welsh economy.

The uncertainty and lack of clarity emanating from central government can be debilitating for everyone and can impede future planning. For greater clarity on the road ahead, please contact Richard Thomas ( or Trish D’Souza (