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RIBA: Reform immigration system or risk ‘cutting UK off from the world’

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The RIBA has warned the government that it risks ‘cutting itself from the world’ if it does not undertake drastic reforms of its post-Brexit immigration system

In a new report published today (Thursday 10 January) the institute calls for the overhaul of rules that, it says, have for too long acted as a ‘deterrent to international talent’.

The Powered by People document argues that December’s much-anticipated Immigration White Paper did not go far enough to protect the £4.8 billion architecture sector.

It makes 18 recommendations, including lifting the cap on the number of available Tier 2 visas and making immigration the joint responsibility of the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with a minister for immigration attending cabinet.

The report warns that the end of freedom of movement within the European Union (EU) and immigration reforms will leave the UK facing a ‘severe talent gap’ since 80 per cent of the UK’s 10,000 international architects are from the EU.

Research by the RIBA found that almost half of EU architects have considered leaving as a result of the referendum. Last year the AJ reported that the ARB had recorded a 42 per cent drop in new EU architects registering in the UK since 2016.

RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance said: ‘International architects make up one in four of the UK architecture workforce, and without them the £4.8 billion contribution the sector makes to the economy would be in jeopardy.

‘It is not simply about numbers though. Our sector thrives on diversity, benefiting from different ways of working, backgrounds and experience.’ 

Under the government’s proposals, EU architects would have to apply via the Tier 2 system, which the RIBA argues is ‘currently not fit for purpose’, claiming only 5 per cent of applications were accepted between November 2017 and April 2018.

‘The cost and complexity of the system impacts small businesses –, which make up 83 per cent of RIBA chartered practices – the hardest,’ the institute said.

The RIBA is also concerned that Brexit is negatively impacting perceptions of the UK as a place where people want to live, work and do business.

Vallance added: ‘Without drastic reform, the UK risks turning inwards and cutting itself off from the world. In addition to the recommendations laid out in our report, we are calling on politicians to be open about the benefits of migration to our society.’

The report coincides with the launch of the Tier 1 ‘exceptional talent’ visa route for architects. From today ‘highly skilled’ architects will be allowed to apply for the route which will allow successful applicants to stay in the UK for up to five years and four months.

While the ’exceptional talent’ visa route has been welcomed by the RIBA as ‘recognition of the UK’s place as a global hub for architectural excellence’, others are unconvinced it will have any impact.

Just 2,000 Tier 1 visas will be available in the 12 months from April 2019, to be shared across all eligible professions, leading critics such as Invisible Studio’s Piers Taylor to dismiss the move as ‘meaningless’. 

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