Home Office forces out foreign dons

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The Independent Online
DOZENS of foreign academics have been forced to leave Britain because of a Home Office clampdown on visa regulations.

One lecturer was turned back at Heathrow when he arrived to take up a job and another had to return to North Korea to apply for a passport stamp. An American who had started work at the University of Hertfordshire has had to take his family to Denmark and apply to re-enter Britain.

Vice-chancellors have protested to the Government that its apparent change of policy is threatening courses in subjects where there are staff shortages. The problem appears to have arisen because the Home Office has begun to apply a rule rarely enforced in the past. Under the 1971 Immigration Act, anyone who comes here on a short-term visa cannot switch to a long-term visa and work permit without leaving the country to do so. In the past this was not strictly applied to academics who came to Britain as visitors or research students but who were then offered permanent university posts. They were simply allowed to stay.

One US academic who has taken up a senior post in the North of England fears she will have to leave the country within two weeks unless the Home Office has a change of heart. She does not want to be named because she fears that might jeopardise her visa application.

'I was told it was a formality, that there would be no problem. I explained what I was doing when I came through immigration after returning to the States in the summer and I was given a six months visa. Now the Home Office has said that I have to go back, but I am worried that if I go they will not let me back in again,' she said.

The Committee of Vice- Chancellors and Principals, representing the heads of 105 universities, says it is receiving on average one complaint of this kind every week. Its administrative officer, David Anderson-Evans, wrote to the Overseas Labour Service a month ago to ask for an explanation of the apparent policy change, but has received no reply. Universities should at least be told that the situation had changed, he wrote.

'Since there are fewer and fewer suitable UK graduates in certain science subjects, the embargo on employing a non- UK national means that these posts could remain vacant,' he added.

At Southampton University the director of personnel, David Sainsbury, has temporarily lost two lecturers. One had to return to North Korea after arriving at the university and the other was turned back at Heathrow: 'We have had an awful lot of trouble. The rules have always been applied with a certain amount of flexibility but there has been a marked change in the past six months.'

A Home Office spokeswoman did not accept there had been a policy change. 'In exceptional circumstances a person may be allowed to stay rather than having to go home and apply.

'Students are admitted to the UK on the understanding that they will return home at the end of their studies,' she said.