UK will fast track visas for top scientists post-Brexit

Article by Amanda Doyle

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that top scientists will be allowed to apply for fast-track visas under new immigration rules post-Brexit.

The scheme is designed to attract elite researchers and specialists in science, engineering, and technology, and is due to launch later this year. Options that will be discussed include expanding the pool of UK research institutions that can endorse candidates, creating criteria that confer automatic endorsements, ensuring dependants have access to the labour market, removing the need for an employment offer before relocating, and accelerating the path to settlement.

Johnson said: “I want the UK to continue to be a global science superpower, and when we leave the EU we will support science and research and ensure that, far from losing out, the scientific community has a huge opportunity to develop and export our innovation around the world.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We want Britain to be the most prosperous economy in Europe with an immigration system that attracts the brightest and best global talent. Our new fast-track visa route will be a key part of this – encouraging the world’s top scientists and researchers to our shores. These gifted minds will bolster the UK’s standing as a hub for science and innovation as we look to introduce a points-based immigration system centred on what people will contribute…”

The Government has also said that it will provide additional funding for researchers who have open applications for EU funding that may not be evaluated by the EU after Brexit. It said that any applications to Horizon 2020, the European Research Council, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, and SME instrument programmes, will be automatically reviewed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the national funding agency

Jo Johnson, Science and Innovation Minister, said: “Researchers and innovators can submit proposals to Horizon 2020 with confidence, right up to 31 October, knowing that the best proposals will be funded – regardless of how we leave the EU.”

David Reid, Learned Society Manager at IChemE, said: "The uncertainty around future immigration of skilled researchers in engineering and science has been a concern to IChemE for some time. We're glad that Government has listened to the scientific community and released this policy. Research and development must remain as high priorities in the UK if we are to meet the Government target of 2.4% of GDP being spent on R&D by 2025, and this is not possible without being able to recruit specialist talent from around the world."

"IChemE's policy team has been collaborating with several other professional engineering institutions and other organisations to ensure that the Government received a clear message about the importance of attracting the best engineering researchers to the UK in order to meet the Government target."

Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineering, with its world class talent, universities, companies and facilities, should be at the heart of delivering renewed prosperity to the UK – I am pleased to see that the Prime Minister’s vision for the future chimes with this. However, EU research and innovation programmes have made vital contribution to the success of the UK’s research and innovation base.  A no-deal Brexit could dramatically increase our chances of being unable to participate in these programmes.”

Daniel Rathbone, Assistant Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said: “We welcome the powerful message from the Prime Minister […] However, the devil is in the detail – any new visa system must be streamlined, easy to use and competitively priced compared to other leading science nations. Currently, UK visas are significantly more expensive than those of other countries. Science is also a collaborative enterprise so it would be very beneficial if there was a streamlined process for these talented scientists to bring their teams with them to the UK.”

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, said: “Brexit has a special downside for science – simply because science is an enterprise that is especially international and collaborative. The UK has traditionally been ‘welcoming’, and its scientific strength benefits hugely from the participation of EU citizens. Even if visas are readily available, highly skilled people are only willing to settle if they know there is freedom of movement for families etc.  Cutting the vexatious form-filling now needed to apply for a Tier 1 Visa is of course a welcome move, but its effect will be no more than marginal – and far outweighed by the negative impact of Brexit itself. And incidentally it’s absurd to suggest that post-Brexit we will develop stronger links with the rest of the world.  We’re doing this anyway and as I said above, it would be harder to attract top scientists post-Brexit because we’ll be perceived as a less attractive destination. Our international standing is being embarrassingly enfeebled by this Government’s stance and rhetoric.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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