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Architects criticise new immigration cap

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Architects have hit out at government plans to reduce the number of skilled people coming to work in the UK from outside the EU by by 20 per cent

Home Secretary Theresa May this week unveiled a new annual limit on non-EU workers as part of the government’s bid to cut net yearly migration from 196,000 to the ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015.

The changes will mean only 21,700 skilled workers from outside the EU each year will be allowed in to the country, equivalent to a 20 per cent drop on 2009 levels.

Critics have suggested the policy could hinder business while doing little to bring down net migration.

James Burrell, founding partner and managing director of BCA London, said: ‘There is obviously a problem with uncontrolled access from EU countries and they’re [the government] tinkering around with the edges. The caps don’t really do anything to tackle the net surplus but they greatly inconvenience us.

‘Because of the international nature of the profession it is something that architects will be hit by.’

He added: ‘As a small practice we’re looking to guard against the recession and increase our workload abroad and we looked at India as a possible place to work. So we employed a worker that already had a visa to work here and she worked for us for six to seven months getting us ready to go out to India.

‘We weren’t taking a job away from someone else we were simply employing someone with the correct skills. But when she applied for visa renewal and found a temporary cap, she no longer qualified [to work here].’

Chris Romer-Lee of Studio Octopi said restricting the number of overseas architects and architecture students should be avoided. He said: ‘Architecture in the UK would be all the poorer if we stop international talent coming here. [Our practice] currently has international employees and we really value the different perspectives they bring.’

A statement from the RIBA said cultural exchange made a ‘very valuable’ contribution to the UK’s architecture talent pool and helped the country compete in the international market for design services.

A spokesperson said: ‘We hope that the UK government will be flexible in the future application of the points-based system for skilled workers, in order to support the changing demands of specific professional markets, particularly when growth returns.’

The reforms will raise the minimum salary for those coming to work for than a year in this country through the ‘intra-company’ transfer route to £40,000. It is understood workers earning below £24,000 could be banned completely from migrating this way.

Only 1,000 skilled people a year will be allowed to migrate without a job, compared to 14,000 previously.

The AJ has also learned that the government is also planning to halve the number of non-EU students permitted to study in the country.

The Home Secretary said: ‘We have worked closely with businesses while designing this system, and listened to their feedback, but we have also made clear that as the recovery continues, we need employers to look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country.’

‘We have set out an approach which will not only get immigration down to sustainable levels but at the same time, protects those businesses and institutions which are vital to our economy.’

Full RIBA statement


The RIBA believes that cultural exchange is very valuable for the UK architects’ profession, enriching the talent pool and helping the UK to compete in what is now a global market for architectural services.

There is no doubt that the current economic situation is very challenging for UK architects, with evidence of significant over-capacity at the present time in the UK architects’ profession.

We hope that the UK government will be flexible in the future application of the points-based system for skilled workers, in order to support the changing demands of specific professional markets, particularly when growth returns.

The large numbers of overseas applicants to UK schools of architecture reflects the high reputation of both UK architectural education and UK architects.  We believe it is correct that any reduction in student visa numbers should relate  neither to undergraduate nor postgraduate studies, particularly in key professional disciplines such as architecture.

Although it is currently difficult for students to find professional training placements in the UK,  those entering the education system now will be looking for placements in 2014, when the outlook for UK construction may be very different.

We feel that it is important to contribute to the continued vitality of both the schools of architecture and UK profession by supporting all appropriately qualified overseas students who wish to pursue architectural studies in the UK.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • I was an overseas student of architecture and gained my PG Diploma last December 2010. I am currently waiting for my registration with the ARB. I am currently working for a practice I have been employed by, and affiliated with since my Part 1 studies.

    I have been here in the UK since I was 19 - for nearly 9 years, I have gone through the full process of gaining an architectural qualification. However now, due to the tightening Immigration policies, I am experiencing difficulty in applying for my visa that would allow me to keep my employed status here in the UK. The difficulty is mainly in the fact that the system is designed to disregard any professional trainees, and sets impossible salary brackets. We are subjected to a self-assessment using a 'points-based calculator' - where I can score points for my Masters degree but not my qualification as an Architect (the profession is not even found on their database!)

    Have a go yourself:

    I chose to come here to the UK to study architecture and qualify, with the full intention of practicing here and gaining experience, to further my career. To have to leave my current employment and life here is upsetting, unsettling, and incomprehensible - to say the least.

    I believe the system is flawed, and disregards perfectly sound, intelligent, focused people that have invested time, money, and their lives in the hope of pursuing further success. It somewhat bears light on the ignorance of the lawmakers on the architectural profession, and how much is put into becoming an Architect.

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