UK to raise visa numbers for scientists

File photo of Boris Johnson

LONDON: Boris Johnson’s government will double the number of visas for scientific research fellowships and speed up the approval process as it seeks to encourage more scientists to move to the UK after it leaves the EU.

The government announced on Monday it will increase the number of eligible fellowships for accelerated visa endorsement from 62 to over 120. Individuals who receive such fellowships will require a simple letter from the relevant funding organisation to accelerate their immigration checks.

The eligible organisations added to the fellowship list include the European Research Council, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and Human Frontier Science. The full list will be released early in 2020, according to the Home Office.

Priti Patel, home secretary, said Britain would need “an immigration system that attracts the sharpest minds from around the globe” to ensure it can be at “the forefront of innovation”.

As part of this ambitious plan, we are taking decisive action today to boost the number of top scientists and elite researchers who can benefit from fast-tracked entry into the UK. Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, welcomed the changes as a first step in creating an immigration system that would encourage talented researchers from all over the world.

To maintain our global leadership, with science at the heart of the government’s agenda, we need to attract the best overseas talent to supplement our outstanding homegrown minds, he said.

“This will require replacing the current cumbersome and unfriendly visa system with one that is fair, fast, efficient, and reasonably priced, and which takes into account the long-term aspirations of scientists and their families.”Recommended AnalysisBrexit16 min Can UK scientists still lead the world after Brexit? Andrea Leadsom, business secretary, added: ‘We want the UK to be a global science superpower, and continuing to attract the world’s top scientists and researchers to join us in the race to solve the great challenges of the future — from living longer, healthier lives to clean energy and solving antibiotic resistance — is an important part of realising that ambition.’

The loosening of visa rules follows several policies adopted by the government to encourage scientists and high skilled migrants to stay in, or move to, the UK after Brexit, including the abolition of the cap on Tier 1 exceptional talent visas. Johnson is expected to focus on boosting UK research and development in the early stages of his new government, with increased R&D funding and the formation of an agency inspired by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the US, known as Darpa, that will focus on “high-risk, high-pay-off research’.

Meanwhile Ken Clarke, the former Conservative chancellor expelled from the party by Mr Johnson in September, called on the prime minister to focus on policy issues instead of campaigning slogans. ‘I don’t get the impression that they’ve yet pressed the ‘government’ button.

They’ve now got five years, and certainly for the first two or three they can do whatever they want. Do they know what they want? Are they prepared for that?’ he told the BBC. ‘Governing the country is more than going around saying, ‘Oooh, 2020 is going to be a golden year, and we’re going to be global Britain’.

At the moment we’ve got a stagnant, fragile economy, an angry, discontented population. It’s a very dangerous world out there in many, many ways,” he added.