Britain to Grant Fast-Tracking Visas to Top Scientists

Britain to Grant Fast-Tracking Visas to Top Scientists

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a “global talent” visa which will replace the current “exceptional talent” route, but removing the cap on numbers.

A new, fast-track visa scheme to attract the world’s top scientists, researchers and mathematicians will open next month. This follows a commitment by the Prime Minister last summer to put science, research and innovation on the top of the government’s agenda.

The bespoke Global Talent route will have no cap on the number of people able to come to the UK, demonstrating the government’s commitment to supporting top talent. The previous system applied mostly to non-EU nationals and was limited to 2,000 visas per year.

For the first time UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will endorse applicants from the scientific and research community. From the beginning of the programme, scientists and researchers will be able to get their visa applications speeded up if they have been endorsed by one of four national bodies.

The Global Talent route replaces the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route. The Global Talent route will:

  • provide for a brand new fast-track scheme, managed by UKRI which will enable UK-based research projects that have received recognised prestigious grants and awards, including from the European Space Agency and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, to recruit top global talent, benefiting higher education institutions, research institutes and eligible public sector research establishments – this will enable an individual to be fast-tracked to the visa application stage
  • double the number of eligible fellowships, such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Research Council and Human Frontier Science, which also enable individuals to be fast-tracked
  • continue to ensure dependents have full access to the labour market
  • preserve the route’s flexibility by not requiring an individual to hold an offer of employment before arriving or tying them to one specific job
  • provide an accelerated path to settlement for all scientists and researchers who are endorsed on the route
  • provide for an exemption from our absences rules for researchers, and their dependants, where they are required overseas for work-related purposes, ensuring they are not penalised when they apply for settlement

The Immigration Rules to bring the visa changes into effect will be made on the 30 January 2020 and come into effect on the 20 February. The changes are part of the initial-phase wider reforms to enable those with world class skills in science and research to come to the UK as soon as possible.

“The UK has a proud history of scientific discovery, but to lead the field and face the challenges of the future we need to continue to invest in talent and cutting edge research.” – Boris Johnson“The UK has a proud history of scientific discovery, but to lead the field and face the challenges of the future we need to continue to invest in talent and cutting edge research,” Boris Johnson said in a statement announcing the new scheme. “That is why as we leave the EU I want to send a message that the UK is open to the most talented minds in the world, and stand ready to support them to turn their ideas into reality.”

The reforms to the Global Talent route coincide with ambitious government investment of up to £300 million to fund experimental and imaginative mathematical sciences research by the very best global talent over the next five years.

Around £60 million funding will be available per yearWith around £60 million funding available per year, the investment will double funding for new PhDs, as well as boost the number of maths fellowships and research projects.

The new funding forms part of the government’s ambitions to boost research and development spending on changing the way people live, work and travel. The funding will increase the pool of trained mathematicians in the UK and provide more freedom for researchers to develop new ideas. With this funding, the UK will remain at the cutting edge of maths research that underpins real-world technological developments, ranging from smoother traffic flow, crime prevention, safer air travel and smarter phone technology to the use of artificial intelligence and creation of greener energy systems.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The UK is a world leader in science, with research and innovation that changes lives being undertaken every day in this country. To keep the UK at the forefront of innovation, we are taking decisive action to maximise the number of individuals using the Global Talent route including world-class scientists and top researchers who can benefit from fast-tracked entry into the UK.”

Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said that leaving the EU gives the UK new freedom to strengthen research and build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow. With more leading international scientists and bigger investment in mathematics, the UK can establish itself a “global science superpower”.

The ambitious goal, however, can be marred by the scientific community’s complaints about excessive research bureaucracy and methods, including arduous funding applications and research selection processes. The government has lately launched a major review of research bureaucracy. New, easier procedures will free up researchers from unnecessary paperwork and help them focus on groundbreaking and meaningful research on disease treatments or improvements of UK’s transport networks.

UKRI is already taking steps to reduce bureaucracy. The agency will simplify the process to apply for funding, removing the unnecessary requirement to precisely forecast the long-term benefits of projects with unpredictable results. In the coming weeks, the government will be consulting world-leading scientists, researchers, academics and industry figures on what more can be done.

An ambitious Place Strategy for UK research and development will also be published this summer to ensure funding builds on strengths of the regions. The government will also examine how the UK’s catapult centres can strengthen research and development capacity in local areas, improving productivity and contributing to greater prosperity across the UK.

Universities are welcoming the new initiative. Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, hopes that the new visa route will help universities attract the brightest scientists and researchers to the UK with minimal barriers. “Universities are globally connected and this announcement signals that the UK remains open to talent from around the world,” the professor said. “Our universities carry out life-changing research and our knowledge base, economy, and wider society will benefit from the international staff we can attract through this visa route.”

Boris Johnson’s government has already outlined broader immigration reforms, expected to be set out in legislation in the coming months. The points-based system will seek to limit the rights of low-skilled workers to settle in Britain while trying to provide industry with the skilled workers they need.

Image: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock

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