Oxford warns of 'enormous damage' if Brexit forces EU staffers out

Airbus CEO: I'll lobby against Brexit trade barriers
Airbus CEO: I'll lobby against Brexit trade barriers

Prominent academics at the University of Oxford have warned of a staff exodus if the rights of EU citizens living in Britain are not secured soon.

"Oxford University relies on EU citizens as lecturers, researchers and support staff," the academics wrote in a letter to The Times. "If they lost their right to work here, our university would suffer enormous damage which, given our role in research, would have reverberations across the U.K."

More than eight months have passed since Britain voted to leave the EU, but it's still not clear whether millions of EU migrants living in the U.K. will be permitted to stay. British expats living in Europe also remain in limbo.

The unelected House of Lords wants the British government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens unilaterally before Brexit negotiations are triggered, possibly as early as this week.

Absent a reciprocal commitment from the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May would prefer to address the issue after talks have started -- a position the House of Commons is expected to support in a vote on Monday.

Related: The world's best university costs just $12,000 a year

That means the uncertain position for migrants will continue. And that uncertainty is a source of anxiety for many. The Oxford academics warned that some of their staff are already making plans to leave the country.

"These are real and immediate concerns," they wrote in the letter. "Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law."

The letter was signed by the heads of 35 colleges and vice-chancellor Louise Richardson.

Related: 4.2 million migrants still wait to learn their fate

brexit eu workers leaving

Brexit negotiations will need to untangle decades of integration and answer many questions: Which migrants will have the right to remain? How will future work permits be issued? Will cross border pensions claims be honored?

The numbers involved are huge: The House of Commons estimates that 3 million people from other EU states live in the U.K. Some work on farms and as construction workers, while others are employed as doctors and nurses.

An estimated 1.2 million British citizens live as expats in the EU. Some are retirees who have sought out the warmer weather and cheaper cost of living in countries including Spain and Portugal.

-- Ivana Kottasova contributed reporting.

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