Government acts to attract 'brightest and best'

The UK government is to double the number of Tier 1 fast-track visas available to elite scientists from around the world.

Lab technicians
The extension of the existing system, which will take effect from January 1, pre-empts the new points-based immigration system the government intends to introduce at the end of 2020 and is intended to allay fears among UK universities that Brexit will restrict their ability to conduct world-leading research in a variety of fields.

Home Secretary Priti Patel's response to Russell Group research

A recent analysis by the Russell Group of 24 leading universities found that Brexit uncertainty had prompted talented EU academics to leave science departments in the UK, sparking warnings from universities of a looming scientific skills shortage.In response, Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced the immediate increase in the number of accelerated fellowship visas in science research from the current 62 to more than 120.

“We want to make sure the UK continues to be at the forefront of innovation, so we need an immigration system that attracts the sharpest minds from around the globe," said Ms Patel.“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.”

Government wants the UK to be a 'global science superstar'

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom added that she wanted the UK to be a "global science superpower" and said the boost to fast-tracked fellowship visas would encourage "researchers to join us in the race to solve the great challenges of the future".Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in the summer that the new immigration system would not impose caps on elite researchers' visas and the move on fellowships is being seen as a sign of the government's commitment to see this put into effect when the new system comes into force.Under the expanded Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route, individuals who receive fellowships will only need to provide the Home Office with a letter from the relevant sponsoring organisation – such as the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Tech Nation - to have their visa applications fast-tracked. Each will be valid for an initial five years and entitles researchers' families to settle in the UK.Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said, "Fellowships are a small but important part of the research workforce, so today's announcement is a welcome first step in creating an immigration system that encourages talented researchers from all over the world to choose to work in the UK."

Fellowship visas: more to be done

Ben Moore, policy analyst at the Russell Group, said the announced showed the government was serious about ensuring the country can “attract leading international talent”.However, he added, “There is more to be done – the next step will be to allow universities to recruit all staff essential to research, including early-career researchers and laboratory technicians, through the planned Global Talent visa and new points-based system.”Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, added, “This welcome announcement will help attract the brightest and best research stars to the UK at a time when our place on the world stage is changing.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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