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UK visa rules must be changed to attract more scientists and engineers, says report

The Campaign for Science and Engineering has strongly criticised government immigration policies, warning that they are creating an unnecessary obstacle to talented scientists and engineers around the world coming to work in the UK.

In a new report, Immigration: Keeping the UK at the Heart of Global Science and Engineering, CaSE says anti-immigration rhetoric and immigration policies are putting the UK’s future economic and scientific success at risk.

CaSE argues immigrant scientists and engineers bring new ways of thinking to universities and businesses, help build international collaborations, and open up new global markets through their contacts and language skills.

Despite these benefits, the report identifies rules and policies that are stopping talented scientists and engineers from coming to the UK to conduct vital research and contribute to our high-tech economy.

These include rules that prevent researchers from working in the UK for more than seven years if their research involves 180 days travel overseas each year.

CaSE has collected evidence showing that 66 engineers were unable to get a visa to work in the UK because of a Government-imposed cap. With only 30 higher-level engineering apprentices finishing their training in 2013/14, the sector cannot afford to be starved of talented engineers.

The report demonstrates the contribution of immigrant scientists and engineers to the UK’s scientific and economic strength, and its culture, finding that 35 per cent of the public would like to see higher levels of immigration of scientists and researchers, making them the most-welcomed profession. It points out that 40 per cent of all British Nobel Prize winners were born overseas, and
a quarter of academic staff in UK universities are non-UK nationals. More than 13,000 scientists and engineers came from outside the European Union to work in the UK in 2014-15.

Among its recommendations, CaSE calls on the government to create a new Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Science, Research, and Academia) visa, support international researchers to maintain links with their home countries to promote international development, protect the free movement of people in Europe, harmonise with EU legislation to support researcher mobility, fast-track peer-reviewed applicants through Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent), and abolish the Tier 2 (General) cap.

The Director of CaSE, Sarah Main, said: “Immigrants have helped make the UK a world-leader in science and engineering. From the structure of DNA to the design of the Mini, we have benefitted from great ideas brought by talented people from abroad. The Government wants to make the UK the best place in the world for business and science. This report shows that getting immigration policy right is key to achieving their aim.

"We have identified feasible actions that the Government can take to strengthen the UK as a destination for global scientists and engineers. There is a real win-win opportunity here, to support our economy and support international development by promoting global research collaboration.”

The President of the Royal Society, Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, said: “All governments can place legitimate limits on immigration but the UK’s traditionally welcoming approach to talent from abroad is one of the reasons why we have such a world-class research base.  This report can help stimulate discussion about how we ensure that rationality wins out and the UK maintains its ability to attract the best scientific talent from around the world.”

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