Government proposes to relax immigration rules for researchers
Given the gap in the brain tumour research workforce in the UK, Boris Johnson’s intention to loosen immigration restrictions on scientists to fast-track their entry into the UK must be welcomed. The proposed policies might include ensuring the dependants of scientists can follow them to the UK and also be allowed to work, increasing the number of organisations that can endorse foreign scientists/researchers and removing the cap on the number of ‘Tier 1 Exceptional Talent’ visas issued.
According to The Royal Society, 29% of researchers working in UK universities are non-UK nationals (12% non-EU and 17% EU). Indeed, Brain Tumour Research’s Centres of Excellence benefit from the expertise of numerous non-UK nationals and so we are glad to see that UK policy post-Brexit should facilitate the entry of scientists and researchers.
Although this is all a step in the right direction, there are still areas of uncertainty, which may deter foreign scientists from wanting to work in the UK.
For example, removing the cap on Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visas may, in effect, be useless as the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee has heard that this cap was never reached – largely because its eligibility criteria were too stringent.
Successful medical research does not just depend on the elite scientists that could enter the UK via a Tier 1 Visa, but also on a variety of other professionals. These range from junior researchers to expert laboratory technicians and specialised supporting roles such as Research Secretaries. Many of these employees would enter the UK under a ‘Tier 2’ visa. In order to get a Tier 2 visa for these kinds of roles, an individual would need to be paid circa £30,000 per year. This is a relatively high salary for university and/or charity funded laboratories to pay, especially considering they don’t always have the alternative of employing a UK-national as many types of medical research, especially neuro-oncology, require very specific knowledge and skills. This can lead to important jobs going unfulfilled, hampering the research progress. This £30,000 salary threshold is currently under review by the Government and Brain Tumour Research would like to see it lowered, or at least maintained. There have been some recent proposals to raise the level to £36,700. We fear this would price out skilled medical researchers and laboratory support staff from the UK.
There is also the issue of costs associated with obtaining permission to live and work in the UK. The British Academy reports that these can be equivalent to 11% of a Tier 2 visa worker’s salary. All the various fees and charges mean the costs for a researcher bringing over a partner and a child can easily add up to several thousand pounds, so a researcher would need to be in a strong financial position to even consider coming to the UK.
Attracting the best researchers is absolutely vital to growing the UK’s research capacity, a key part of our Find A Cure manifesto. However, the devil really is in the detail and many aspects of the proposed reforms will need careful consideration if they are to successfully attract talented scientists to the UK. Brain Tumour Research will be exploring these issues with key influencers to see how barriers to attracting research scientists can be overcome.
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