UCU University of Leeds UCU is one of several branches with motions calling for a migrant members equality strand in UCU. We urge branches and delegates to UCU Congress to support our motions.
Why is it so important?
Three in every ten staff in UK universities aren’t British (29 per cent). Half of research-only staff (mostly postdocs) are from overseas (47 per cent).
Migrants constitute a large demography within British academia (both in FE and HE) – and even while we make up a considerable proportion of UCU’s membership, our voice is not always heard. During the strikes, we were on the front lines with our colleagues, but our solidarity came at a price: migrant staff who took ‘unlawful’ absence from work for more than 10 days were eligible for having their contracts ended – in other words, if migrants took strike action for more than 10 days, they were at risk of deportation. It took considerable pressure, and very loudly voiced anxieties, from University of Leeds branch and others to bring this to the attention of UCU national officers who thankfully took this matter seriously. The right to strike is a human right, but the Home Office – until they were challenged by UCU, didn’t agree. Today, this law has been repealed and migrants can take strike action in the UK. This is why we need UCU’s structures to represent us. With migrant status recognised under UCU’s equality strand, we will have a committee which can organise and mobilise for migrants rights as human rights. We will have the ability to keep up with the ever changing rules and regulations of the home office, we will have clout with which to challenge and resist the Hostile Environment on our campuses and in our social lives.
What are the issues facing migrant members?
Migrant members face lawful discrimination – yes, LAWFUL discrimination – at work and in our everyday lives. From inhuman visa costs and NHS surcharges, to Home Office scrutiny, surveillance and frequent restrictions on travel.
“I am not allowed to change address without reporting this to the police. Because I am a migrant, I have to physically present myself before the police to report this change of address, or to renew my passport or renew my visa.”
Just as migrants are surveilled on campus – as evidenced by the strike action debacle—they are surveilled outside of campus too. If a migrant has any change in circumstance, they must travel to a police station (often out of town) and report this.
Crucially, visa restrictions limit the careers of migrant members. In one instance, we’re not allowed to take on contracts of less than 12 months – we’re looking at you, universities who advertise 9-month contracts. On the other, we can rarely apply for contracts which are 12 months, as this takes on beyond the limit of our post-PhD visas.
“I am not allowed to apply to any DTP grants or work for more than 20 hrs a week but am expected to survive in this country and produce brilliant research, attend conferences on my own money + visa fee and produce a competitive CV!”
If you’re coming to the UK from outside the EU to start a three-year job at a UK university you’ll need to pay £610 for a visa, £1200 NHS surcharge (on top of National Insurance contributions and tax you’ll pay towards the cost of the NHS anyway), and, depending on your country of qualification and origin, £150-200 for English language tests, £150 for tuberculosis screening. If you have a partner and two children, you’re looking at least £7240, or about 30 per cent of your first year’s typical take-home salary. Most universities don’t reimburse the costs of those visas, some offer taxable-loans, but these are accessible only after arriving in the UK. This means that a migrant moving to the UK for a job is already thousands of pounds out of pocket. And of course, like everyone else you’ll also incur the charges of moving: flights, hotels, transportation, rental deposits, bills, and so on. Whilst thinking about those costs, bear in mind that we do not get paid a salary in our first month of starting a job.
With considerable and consistent pressure from migrant activists in UCU, some universities are starting to reimburse some fees or offer loans. It should not fall on individuals to have to constantly fight for recognition or their rights: a national, unified and strong UCU will be able to organise and negotiate for those rights.
“It’s emotionally draining having to continuously explain (& relive) our experience as migrants under Hostile Environment to people. You don’t know how humiliating, embarrassing, isolating & dehumanising it is. Stop gaslighting us, listen & learn!”
It is not possible to condense into a blog post all the ways in which migrants are discriminated against, and all the ways in which migrants are prevented from attaining and accessing full, equal professional and social lives. But you can find out more about the issues facing migrant members in this article from International and Broke: “The Hostile Environment in British Universities” (2018) (Figures in this post are from that article; if you spot any that need updating, let us know.)
Why do we need new structures in UCU to do this?
We think migrant members – and there are a lot of us – need space within UCU to talk about the issues affecting us. This doesn’t simply mean a migrant members equality conference and a migrant members standing committee, but also, crucially, seats for migrant members on the NEC. Not only will these changes enable UCU to represent its migrant members more effectively, but they will also make a political statement: amidst the stigma attached to immigrants in our current climate, UCU will be clearly and openly stating that it recognises its migrant members, it recognises the stigma, discrimination and isolation they face, and that UCU is a union for all its members, regardless of their passport.
Many have asked us ‘why migrant status?” when race and nationality are already characteristics covered under Equality structures. The answer is simple: while race and nationality are undoubtedly and intricately linked with migration, they are not exclusive of one another, but rather intersectional. Not all nationalities are currently subject to Hostile Environment policies, and not all who are subject to Hostile Environment are racialised. Racial discrimination underpins most forms of discrimination, but racial discrimination is Illegal, whereas discrimination on the basis of your migrant status is legal – and in fact, ordained by the law. The Black Members’ Standing Committee have organised on behalf of Black and BME members within UCU and have also been attuned to the structural discriminations faced by migrant workers. However, the ever evolving rules and regulations of the Hostile Environment means that we need a committee comprised of people who do not hold a British passport, who are on the sharp end of the ever-evolving ways in which these regulations are enforced and mapped onto our daily lives as migrant workers. The violence of the Hostile Environment is at once both conspicuous, and subtle. It is above all insidious. While many in UCU have expressed solidarity, there have been gaps in our union’s understanding regarding the depth of this problem and its experiential effects.
During the USS strikes, everyone, including UCU, were in the dark with regards to the 10-days rule surrounding the ‘unauthorised absences’ of migrants from the workplace. If migrant workers had already been adequately represented in UCU structures, our union would have been better placed to anticipate problems with the potential for deportation of migrant members during the USS strikes. Branch activists worked hard during the dispute to raise this, but without the help of activists, organisations and MPs UCU would not have been in a position to (belatedly) gain the clarity needed over how strike action would be recorded.
We need migrant members to be represented from the grassroots up within UCU, with dedicated representation and structures. Including migrant workers within UCU equality structures will strengthen our power and potential to challenge discrimination and champion true, intersectional equality.
Migrant members need our own equality structures within UCU to make sure UCU represents us as well as it can.
EU or non-EU?
These motions aren’t about Brexit. Of non-British workers, around six in ten are from EU countries and four in ten are from non-EU counties. The Hostile Environment, long predating Brexit, is a deeply violent, racist and imperial policy which has been designed specifically to control and suppress migrants predominantly from the Global South. With Brexit however, it is feared that some of those horrible policies we are subject to will also be rolled out against our EU colleagues. Not in the same way, but in the same vein. For that reason we’re proposing that at least one of the two NEC seats reserved for migrant members will be for someone from a non-EU country.
Please support our motions to support migrant members
“I am not allowed to just be. Because I am a migrant, hostile environment dictates my life, my career and my freedoms – intellectual or social. Hostile environment is violent, and until it is scrapped, we need to be protected from its effects as much as we can.”
Motion 9 Composite: Representation of migrants in UCU structures (University of Leeds, The University of Manchester)
This is the motion which sets out the reasoning and principles and asks UCU to agree to create a migrant members equality strand. This is then supported by two rules changes which create a migrant members standing committee and equality conference and two NEC places for migrant members.
(Click on the links for the full motion texts)
We realise this is a big change to UCU’s equality structures, but we believe that change it necessary. As a union we need the structures in place to help us challenge the lawful discrimination faced by migrant members every day.
Please support these motions.
Jo McNeill, candidate in the general secretary election: “I absolutely support all of our migrant workers and will be voting for the Leeds motion at Congress and advising others to do the same.”
Jo Grady, candidate in the general secretary election: “100% and will be voting with the motion.”