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Economy Economy

Enable leading scientists from around the world to work in the UK

Last updated: 12:21pm 15 October 2019

We will […] enable leading scientists from around the world to work here.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.19

Our verdict

International scientists are essential to the UK science sector, with two-fifths of the UK’s academic workforce in science, technology and engineering being overseas nationals. Currently, EU scientists do not need a visa to work in the UK, but non-EU scientists have to undertake a rigorous and often slow application process which is among the most expensive in the world. After Brexit, it is feared the UK will suffer from a shortage of top scientists, as EU applicants will have to undergo the same application process as those from non-EU countries.

Alongside the government’s promise to increase the number of scientists working in the UK, this policy specifically aims to enable “leading scientists from around the world” to work in the UK.

In August 2019 the Prime Minister announced plans to launch a new “fast-track visa route” for top scientists applying to work in the UK, with the anticipated launch date in late 2019. The government said they intend to work with universities to develop the system. Possible options for encouraging scientists to move to the UK include:

  • the removal of the need to hold an offer of employment before arriving
  • abolishing the cap on numbers under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas
  • accelerated paths to settlement

However, they have not yet defined who will be eligible to apply, when it will be available or how much it will cost, leading some to criticise the plans. Some scientists are also concerned that the changes will not be enough to counteract the damage to the sector anticipated due to Brexit.

While the government has demonstrated an inclination to fulfil this pledge with their announcement of a visa overhaul, it is yet to take actions we can evaluate in detail. But some work has been done, so we are marking this as ‘in progress’. We’ll need to see the fast-track system working, and assess whether it addresses the concerns expressed, before we consider moving this to ‘done’. Follow this policy for updates.

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