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RIBA Calls for Drastic Reform of Post-Brexit Immigration System

•86% of architects think that access to international skills and talent is vital to the future success of the sector
•Almost half of EU architects have considered leaving the UK as a result of the referendum
•UK architecture sector worth £4.8 billion to the UK economy
•42% drop in new EU architects registering in the UK since 2016


The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), published a report arguing for a drastic reform of the UK’s immigration system. Powered by People: Building a Post-Brexit Immigration System for UK Architecture sets out what is needed to ensure the immigration system supports rather than damages the UK’s vital architecture sector.

The RIBA report is the result of detailed research and interviews with international architects living in the UK. Highlighting that the UK’s premier position as a magnet for international talent should not be taken for granted, it makes a series of recommendations to government to ensure that we can attract the young, dynamic workforce that helps make UK architecture such a success. In addition to the 18 recommendations, the RIBA is calling for an overhaul of a system that has for too long acted as a deterrent to international talent and for more recognition from politicians about the benefits that immigration has bought to the UK.

As the date for the UK’s departure from the EU draws near, the government has made it clear that freedom of movement will end. In December 2018, it published the much-anticipated Immigration White Paper detailing the plans post-Brexit. Whilst there were some welcome improvements, the RIBA warned that the plans did not go far enough to protect a sector dependent on the skills and talent of a diverse workforce.

80% of international architects are from the EU and with a 42% drop in new EU architects registering since 2016, the architecture sector could face a severe talent gap. Under the government’s proposals, EU architects would have to apply via the Tier 2 system which is currently not fit for purpose – only 5% of applications were accepted between November 2017 and April 2018. The cost and complexity of the system impacts small businesses, which make up 83% of RIBA Chartered Practices, the hardest.

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 in.

RIBA Chief Executive Alan Vallance said:

“International architects make up 1 in 4 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, benefitting from different ways of working, backgrounds and experience. The government has made it clear it wants UK businesses to expand overseas but ministers must provide the conditions to allow them to do so.

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 – it is vital to the success of not just our businesses, but the places and spaces that architects create for our communities.”

Powered by People: Building a Post-Brexit Immigration System for UK Architecture.

International architects interviewed by the Institute for the report said:

“People say they wanted skilled migration, educated, technically-qualified people but then if you say ‘we only want people that earn more than X’ architects can fall through the gaps, especially the young ones.”

“There’s always been a sense of liberty about the UK… But a few years back it all started to be obsessive about immigration…. If I knew what things are like, I wouldn’t choose it again.”

“We are two directors and two staff; if I need to do administration and pay fees to bring an architect here… it becomes more complicated… You end up with smaller practices being less able to recruit the best talent, which is a problem if you want to grow.”

“It’s stressful on people with high expertise and who can offer a lot; being flexible is part of the game in architecture and especially in the UK it is essential. That’s the beauty of being here.”


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