Problems plague Britain’s new HPI visas

Contents

    The new UK High Potential Individual (HPI) visas scheme offers individuals with a degree from a highly ranked university the chance to live and work in the UK for up to 3 years.

    Only graduates from schools ranked by The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and/or The Academy of Ranking World Universities are currently eligible.

    The scheme has been broadly criticized for excluding most African, Latin American, and South Asian schools, as well as for relying on flawed university ranking systems.

    In an attempt to boost its capacity to attract talented and highly skilled workers, Britain recently announced that graduates from dozens of the world’s best universities will be able to apply for a visa to live and work in the United Kingdom for as long as 3 years without having to arrange employment beforehand.

    The decision is being hailed as a smart move in some quarters, with advocates claiming it will help Britain import more highly capable workers into a labor market that badly needs talented employees.

    Others are voicing concerns, citing objections to the policy overall as well as to some of the details of its implementation. The criticisms are substantial, and if Britain maintains the plan in place without any modifications, the problems of the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa scheme likely outweigh its advantages.

    Briefly, here is how the new UK immigration revision will work:

    • The program introduces the use of what’s being called ‘High Potential Individual (HPI) visas’, which give individuals preferential treatment if they have earned a degree from a highly ranked university within the past 5 years.
    • These visas reflect Britain’s overall adoption of a points-based immigration system that opens various routes to immigration based on individuals’ skills, occupations, and education.
    • To be eligible for HPI visas, graduates must have been awarded their degrees from an eligible university, which is defined as an institution that has appeared on 2 of these 3 global ranking systems: The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and/or The Academy of Ranking World Universities.
    • Graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree will be eligible for a 2-year visa, while those with a PhD will be allowed to stay for 3 years.
    • Visas cannot be extended, but participants can apply for a different type of visa after the HPI visa expires if they meet requirements.

    Recipients, who are required to prove their proficiency in English, will also be permitted to bring their families with them.

    Of the 37 eligible universities included on the most recent (2021-22) list, 20 are in the United States, namely:

    • California Institute of Technology
    • Columbia University
    • Cornell University
    • Duke University
    • Harvard University
    • Johns Hopkins University
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    • New York University
    • Northwestern University
    • Princeton University
    • Stanford University
    • Yale University
    • 3 campuses of the University of California (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego)
    • University of Chicago
    • University of Michigan
    • University of Pennsylvania
    • University of Texas at Austin
    • University of Washington

    In addition to US universities, the remainder are primarily located in Europe, Canada, or Asia.

    Now on to 4 major problems with the HPI visa scheme.

    1. Universities in several major countries are excluded

    The roster of universities meeting the threshold has already drawn widespread criticism as being too narrow. For example, Inside Higher Education quoted Phil Baty, Times Higher Education’s chief knowledge officer, as saying it was a ‘big problem’ that none of the selected universities were from Africa, Latin America, or South Asia. As a result, the policy will inevitably exclude many people of color who graduated from any number of excellent universities in those countries.

    The policy will exclude many people of color who graduated from any number of excellent universities.

    2. University rankings are flawed

    By restricting the offer to only highly ranked universities, the policy reinforces the use of institutional ranking systems that have been roundly and justifiably criticized as reifying an artificial meritocracy.

    The problem is not that the universities that meet the UK’s criteria are not excellent institutions. All of them are. The problem is that so many other outstanding colleges and universities – and their students – are excluded.

    The problem is not that the universities that meet the UK’s criteria are not excellent institutions. All of them are. The problem is that so many other outstanding colleges and universities – and their students – are excluded.

    As just one example, the listed universities are almost all known for their research excellence rather than for having a demonstrably effective teaching record. Likewise, most of them – particularly those in the US – are renowned for excluding the majority of applicants, making them highly selective and not particularly racially or economically diverse in terms of the students they graduate.

    [Read: Why ranking high schools is a bad idea]

    3. Students’ academic record doesn’t matter

    Under the system, HPI visa eligibility will apparently be extended to graduates of the universities on the list, regardless of their academic record. It doesn’t matter what one’s major was. It doesn’t matter what one’s GPA was. It doesn’t matter what one’s extracurricular achievements – or lack thereof – were. All that matters is that one graduated from a school on the approved list.

    Regardless of what one thinks about a so-called meritocracy, it’s hard to see how these criteria are establishing one.

    The sociology student that barely scraped by and graduated from the University of Washington gets the nod. The electrical engineering student with a perfect 4.0 from the Texas A&M doesn’t make this cut. Regardless of what one thinks about a so-called meritocracy, it’s hard to see how these criteria are establishing one.

    4. The inclusion of universities changes from year to year

    To be eligible for the HPI visa, a student must have graduated from a university during the specific year that school was highly ranked. For example, a 2017 graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara would be eligible because their school made the cut that year. However, a 2018 graduate would not be eligible, as the following year, UC Santa Barbara did not rank. Similarly, a 2021 graduate of the University of Illinois would make the cut, but not a 2021-22 graduate.

    A 2017 graduate of UC Santa Barbara would be eligible because their school made the cut that year. However, a 2018 graduate would not be eligible, as the following year, their school did not rank.

    In their current form, Britain’s HPI visa scheme appears fraught with both policy problems and practical limitations. Unless it is rethought and refined, its impacts are likely to be both unfair and counterproductive.

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