Migration Pulse

The Points Based System is spreading a culture of controls across the education and arts sectors

Introduction of the Points Based System (PBS) has forced organisations bringing in international migrants to become sponsors. As a consequence this has invited a spread of identity checks for those coming into contact with the system. Within academia and the arts this has caused controversy, since staff have refused to act as an extended arm of the UK Border Agency.
February 15, 2011
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Valérie Hartwich

Valérie Hartwich is a French-German writer, translator and interpreter based in London. She is also the co-convenor of the Manifesto Club's campaign "Visiting artists and academics campaign". The Manifesto Club campaigns against the hyperregulation of everyday life, supporting free movement across borders, free expression and free association.

The Points Based System forces organisations to monitor migrants and liaise with the UK Border Agency. The spreading of controls and checks resulting from the system presents a new challenge to the education and arts sectors, where exchange, experimentation and trust between students and institutions is crucial.

It is now impossible for British-based organisations to welcome international migrants unless they are registered on the UK Border Agency's sponsors list. As sponsors, organisations must carry out a series of checks on migrants, and report them to UKBA if they breach the conditions of their stay in the UK.

Many have repeatedly complained that guidelines are unclear and UKBA unhelpful in clarifying them. They are nervous because failure to comply with their duties can lead to the withdrawal of their sponsorship licence.

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According to reports, many academics and staff at arts organisations feel that the checks are at odds with the realities of their sectors. An article in the November issue of the Kent University Socio-Legal Newsletter declares: “These measures fundamentally betray the trust and destroy the openness, upon which academic processes and the ethics of the university depend”.

Indeed, reporting an international migrant to the UKBA can lead to their deportation. Just as problematic, an arts organisation might have difficulty monitoring artists if they need to be in the public space to conduct their work. By imposing these requirements the UKBA is changing the way these sectors work.

The students themselves are increasingly likely to find themselves at the sharp end of assumptions about their intentions in the UK, particularly amid the increasingly negative coverage of immigrants in the media. We can expect those institutions responsible for carrying out monitoring duties to find themselves erring on the side of caution when dealing with international students, in order to protect their sponsorship status with UKBA.

Some universities have been using swiping systems with ID cards to monitor migrants. The resulting data can be broken down into a series of categories, depending on needs, including countries of origin. Although nothing has yet emerged, this might represent a severe breach of Equality laws.

In order to avoid discrimination on the basis of race, colour, national origin and ethnicity, some educational institutions are taking precautionary measures in the way they discharge their sponsor responsibilities. Many sponsors are extending the necessary monitoring and checking procedures to all students in order to avoid breaching equality laws.

Although this may help to avoid race discrimination, it is having the perverse effect of checking the documents of all students and visiting academics. As a result, visiting academics and artists from the EU and UK, and external examiners are increasingly asked to present proof of identity and the right to work. In an open letter to the Guardian external examiners expressed not only their contempt for the checks imposed by the UKBA, but also their indignation at being treated with suspicion.

Rather than encouraging exchange, circulation and cross-fertilisation, the PBS system has initiated a process radically changing the nature of relations across universities and arts. I would argue that checks and monitoring should be sparingly conducted, rather than become standard practice. For the sake of everyone, we must make sure that we remain a society based on openness, trust and collaboration.