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UK scientist visas to be controlled by research agency

Visas will be neither capped nor tied to a specific position

by Benjamin Plackett, special to C&EN
January 29, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 5


Photo of Boris Johnson wearing safety glasses and holding a test tube with a funnel inserted.
Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire via ZUMA Press
Boris Johnson helped with a science demonstration during a visit to Chulmleigh College in November.

The UK government has announced that a new type of visa for scientists will come into play next month after the country leaves the European Union. Crucially, a research funding agency will be in charge of the process instead of the office that normally handles visas and immigration.

“The new Global Talent Visa is most welcome, helping to bring the UK the specialist skills we need to advance science,” says Tanya Sheridan, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s policy and evidence manager.

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously said he wanted, there will be no limit on the number of these visas issued and recipients will not be tied a specific job or institution. Additionally, there is no minimum salary requirement or need to prove English language skills, and scientists can bring their families with them.

“As we leave the EU, I want to send a message that the UK is open to the most talented minds in the world,” Johnson said in a statement announcing the new scheme, which will be administrated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a government research funding body.

Scientists from the EU currently account for 16% of researchers at universities in the UK, according to the Royal Society. These immigration reforms are intended to ensure the UK retains a skilled workforce after Brexit.

Scientists will qualify for the new Global Talent Visa if they have already accepted a senior research role at a “UK Higher Education Institution (such as a university), Public Sector Research Establishment or on UKRI’s list of Independent Research Organisations,” the UKRI says. The eligible positions include “professor, associate professor, reader, senior group leader or equivalent at any UK higher education institution.” A number of different fellowships also fit the criteria. Furthermore, any scientist who is specifically named in a successful grant proposal will also be eligible for the visa.

This means the bulk of academic scientists—regardless of their career level—will probably find a way to apply for the visa. But it will rarely apply to industrial scientists.

Sheridan harbors concerns particularly for smaller private companies in the chemical industry.

“They must retain continued access to the world’s top talent,” she says. “While the Global Talent visa shows the UK is committed to international scientific collaboration, more needs to be done to reflect the needs of a flourishing SME sector.”



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