UK announces new fast-track visa for world-leading researchers

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE UK Government has announced the details of a new fast-track visa scheme to attract overseas researchers, that is set to come into force in February.

The new Global Talent route for top scientists will come into effect on 20 February and replace the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route. The visas will be endorsed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The scheme will accept applicants in senior positions such as professor, as well as those in fellowships, researchers whose name or job title appears on a successful grant from a recognised funder, and for individuals who submit a successful application to The British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering or The Royal Society. The UKRI is also looking to reduce bureaucracy by simplifying funding processes.

A minimum salary is not required for an applicant to be eligible, and successful applicants can bring their families under certain conditions. The visa is also not tied to a specific role or organisation. Recipients of the visa can apply for settled status after three years and will not be penalised for time spent outside of the UK for research purposes.

The new Global Talent visa also removes the cap of 2,000 visas per year of the Tier 1 visa. However according to a Nature article from 2018, the Tier 1 visa was underused with only half of visas taken up in 2017. A Nature article from 29 January about what Brexit will mean for science cautioned that the new visa system will need to avoid being overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of EU researchers who arrive in the UK every year.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “The UK has a proud history of scientific discovery, but to lead the field and face the challenges of the future we need to continue to invest in talent and cutting-edge research. That is why as we leave the EU I want to send a message that the UK is open to the most talented minds in the world, and stand ready to support them to turn their ideas into reality.”

Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Leaving the EU gives us new freedom to strengthen research and build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow.”

The recent Nature article also highlighted how the UK’s exit from the EU has created uncertainty about the participation in Horizon Europe funding after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

Sir Jim McDonald, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to widen an important route for world-leading researchers to come and work in the UK. International talent makes a vital contribution to British engineering, both in academia and in industry, and plays an important role in making the UK an attractive destination for investment. The need for international expertise and collaboration grows ever more important as we look for solutions to the global challenges we face, from sustainable resources for a world population heading for 10bn people, to implementing the benefits of AI and digital technologies.”

In an article published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Policy & Evidence Manager Tanya Sheridan said that that the new visa is encouraging but added: “We would like to see changes to arrangements for skilled workers, so that industry, particularly SMEs, can attract the specialist scientists they need from an international talent pool.”

Jarka Glassey, IChemE’s Vice President – Learned Society, said: “Whilst it remains to be seen how this initiative will address all the concerns academics have been voicing over the impact of Brexit on the research community, it is encouraging to hear the proposals for fast-tracking the applications of world-class scientists for UK visas and simplified funding processes, which should both contribute to attracting and retaining these scientists and engineers within the UK.”

“There are obviously other aspects of funding processes and support for research that are not directly addressed by this initiative, eg the ability of the UK researchers to work with groups of experts in EU/worldwide institutions in joint projects, as cross-fertilisation of ideas is also important for the growth of the UK research capacity.”

More information on the details of the new visa can be found on the UKRI website.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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