The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Foreigners may apply, but should not expect to succeed


I’ve just completed an application for a lecturing role at a University in the UK (no need to mention which one). The section on employing people from overseas was not encouraging. Specifically, here’s what it said about applicants from outside the EEA:

If you are applying from outside the European Economic Area, the University will be required to prove that no other EEA national was capable of undertaking the work and obtain a work permit / certificate of sponsorship for you.

Now of course, this doesn’t prevent us from applying. But look at what it does say. It says that it’s not enough to be the best applicant – even the best by a country mile. The university cannot hire me unless it can prove that no applicant from within the EEA was even capable of doing the job. At all. If there was anyone capable of doing the job – even to a mediocre standard, then the literal wording of this policy means that I could be the greatest scholar in the entire world, but that person would get the job ahead of me.

How can a policy like this actually be good for a University?

PS If you haven’t seen my post on it yet, feel free to help me get to Oxford. (This reminder will appear every now and then until after August.)


The right to protest


Quiet on the home front


  1. Sounds like affirmative action…

  2. Seriously, how a university can, in principle, be in pursuit of excellence while having a policy like this is just incredible.

    I couldn’t ask for a better illustration of why the free market is the best model out there.

  3. Martian

    Just quietly… do you think its wise to criticise the employer you are hoping will employ you on your blog? They may well look here… you do come up with a simple google search…

  4. It’s not the department’s fault. If I were in a faculty that was constrained in this way I imagine I’d find it incredibly frustrating, and I can only assume that this is one of the gripes that individual departments have about University Policies.

    As written, the policy means that if, say, C Stephen Evans applied (this is a philosophy of religion position), they would have to turn him down on the grounds that there exists an applicant in the EEA who, while not terribly impressive, can at least do the job. I would hate to be in a position like that, and there’s no way that as a department they could like a policy like this.

  5. James Rea

    This is standard local area (EU) protectionism which happens the world over. I experienced a Down Under version prior to taking the job here in NSW. The reality is that if you are the best candidate for the job, it is very easy for the university to make the case for your sponsorship and transfer; in order not to contravene European law, the university is obliged to print these statements.

  6. Anon

    I would say it’s the immigration policy, not university’s policy.

    Would you be surprised if I tell you NZ has very similar policy?

    When a foreigner is applying for a job in NZ and need a work visa, the employer has to fill out few pages of forms. One section/statement is very similar to what you quoted.

  7. Anon, no I wouldn’t be surprised. I know I’ve applied in other places and encountered the same thing.

    It seems absolutely obvious, however, that if they would “make a case” for the ebst candidate if he were from overseas, then the policy is not strictly being upheld, because the law does not allow for exceptions ont he grounds that the applicant is better than all local candidates. The policy, as stated, is that so long as there is a local candidate who can do the job, then foreign candidates are off limits.

    The policy should change. It’s good that people are workling to get around it (if they are), but unfortunately that can just give the misleading impression (as witht he smacking law here in NZ) that the law is “working,” when really it’s just being worked around.

  8. Dan

    “If I were in a faculty that was constrained in this way I imagine I’d find it incredibly frustrating, and I can only assume that this is one of the gripes that individual departments have about University Policies.”

    The policy protects their ability to hire friends and people like them. The policy provides no meaningful limits on the discretion of the faculty to hire someone but gives them a quick “we like you but there’s this policy ….” excuse for other candidates.

    The policy is written in such a way that if C Stephen Evans applied they would easily be able to argue that he is unique, would add unique value and credibility to their department, expand dialogue in ways that no other candidate could, etc. Alternatively, they would retract the old hiring description and reissue one that only C Stephen Evans could fill.

  9. They could argue that he’s unique. But they’d have a hard job arguing that nobody in the entire EEA could do the job at all.

    Anyway… policies like this = bad.

  10. This is not a strange caveat, NZ companies have it when advertising overseas, and I have applied for jobs in America where there is the same.
    Its quite easily overcome, because if they decide you are the best one for the job, it means there is no one else with the same unique abilities, personality, and fit for the organisation.

    i think you are reading a bit too much into it 🙂

  11. Geoff, it might mean that nobody else has the same unique qualities, but it doesn’t mean that there’s nobody local who can do the job – and that’s what the policy says they need to be able to show.

    I’ve no doubt that they don’t strictly abide by it, and they do at times hire people who are better than locals even though locals could do the job. I just don’t know why they’d have a policy that actually states something as crazy as this.

  12. Nathan

    It is rare in employment to find candidates that meet every criteria on the ideal candidate criteria list. Even if they get 2 similar candidates, and say one was from EU and one wasn’t, there’s going to be criteria that they can say made the EU candidate unsuitable to fill the position, irrespective of the fact someone else is in the running, There’s no external officials in the interview, just paperwork.

    But I know what you mean in principle.

  13. I think the EEA clause should be scrapped entirely and replaced with something like: Selection for this position is based solely on merit, as we take a hard stance against discrimination based on country of origin.

  14. Glenn, lots of companies have the same caveat. NZ immigration and US I&NS policies say that you can not employ a foreigner if there is someone resident in the country who is suitable.. The fact is, if you are a better candidate than anyone else who applies, then no one can do the job better than you, and the rule applies.

    Some companies have a similar rule regarding promotions. Any new position must be advertised internally first, and if no suitable candidate is found then they look externally. They prefer to promote their existing staff, but if someone outside is better, then there is no suitable candidate “internally”.

    I got a bit of a shock when I first saw it, but now I just realise its “normal” – its a rule of law. They are required to state it.

  15. Glenn, every country has that for foreigners.

    If you apply for a job in NZ, and you aren’t a Permanent Resident or Citizen, The company hiring you tends to get told, “we have people on the WINZ list who can do that job (regardless of whether or not person on the WINZ list is remotely competent)

  16. “The fact is, if you are a better candidate than anyone else who applies, then no one can do the job better than you, and the rule applies.”

    Geoff, no, the problem is that this is NOT the rule. The rule is that as long as somone local can do the job, then it doesn’t matter if you are more suitable, you can’t have it. Have another read of the rule.

    I wouldn’t object to the rule that you just stated, but that’s not the rule in question.

    Raphael, yes, it’s a common rule in many nations, and a terrible rule. I’d like to see the labour market freed up so that people can do what’s actually best for their company without flouting the rules. Protectionism is bad in trade, and bad in employment.

  17. Anon

    I think the policy is there to please those who are _AFRAID_ of foreigners or have unhealthy _FEAR_ of foreigners 😛

  18. Anon… no in jokes allowed!

  19. Wow. I didn’t know that even in Academia this kind of thing happened. As if it isn’t hard enough.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to know that Laws like that apply even there, but I guess I am a bit disappointed.

  20. Rob R

    While this rule has the the problem you say it does, unfortunately, the pendulum can also swing the other way. In the US, public universities sometimes hire foreign born instructors who can hardly speak english, or they just have really thick and difficult accents. They may have been excellent academically and they may have superb technical understanding of the subject, but as teachers, they are limited and a bit frustrating to their students.

    I’m not disagreeing with your grievance at all though, just pointing that the extreme can go the other way as well.

  21. Yes, that can be a problem Rob. I guess that just means that sections of who Colleges hire should be based on job suitability (including communication ability as well as qualifications), and on that alone.

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