An immigration system that works for science and innovation Contents


Collaboration, across disciplinary and geographical boundaries, is the foundation of the scientific endeavour. If the Government is to fulfil the vision set out in its Industrial Strategy to raise total Research and Development (R&D) investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and maintain the UK’s world-class status in R&D, it is vital that the UK has an immigration policy that facilitates the mobility of the science and innovation community. We were disappointed that the Government rejected our earlier recommendation, made in our Brexit, science and innovation Report, for the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to be asked to “bring forward its conclusions in relation to the immigration arrangements needed to support science and innovation” in order for the Government to “build these into a science and innovation agreement with the EU by October 2018 or earlier if possible”. Given the urgency of the situation, we took the proactive step of deciding to develop our own immigration proposal that works for the science and innovation community.

The proposal is based on several principles. These include the need:

a)to support individuals with different types and levels of skill, and who are at different career stages, as well as their dependents;

b)to facilitate both long-term and short-term stays in the UK;

c)to enable further travel, outside the UK, for research purposes, without it harming an individual’s ability to apply for indefinite leave to remain;

d)for an efficient, streamlined and low-cost application process for employees and employers;

e)to readily recruit highly skilled people, wherever they are from, without being subject to an annual limit; and

f)to assess skills in a way that is not wholly reliant on salary as a proxy for skill.

For short-term migration to the UK, we propose that the Government establishes visa-free and permit-free work in the UK for up to 180 days for skilled workers. Eligibility should be verified at the border with proof of intent to leave within that period, and a letter from the employer describing the nature of the skilled work. For long-term migration to the UK we have outlined a five-year skilled work permit for those with either an offer of employment, with a minimum salary that reflects both the going rate for the job, as well as regional, and public/private sector, differences in salary; or third-party sponsorship.

The proposal has been designed to tackle the pressing matter of EEA migration to the UK after we leave the EU, though we recognise that there are clear advantages to applying it to other, non-EEA countries. Having taken advice from a range of sources, and drawing on precedents from other countries, we believe that our proposal will deliver a stable, sustainable and enforceable immigration system. We recommend that the Government uses it as a basis for further, detailed work with the science and innovation community to ‘co-create’ an immigration policy that facilitates the global movement of talent into the UK.

In our Report, we have also highlighted the steps that the Government can take now, unilaterally, to improve the current non-EEA immigration system while negotiations with the EU are ongoing. We are concerned that the eligibility criteria for the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa are too stringent and that this has resulted in a poor uptake of the visa. The Government should work with the Designated Competent Bodies, who endorse these applications, to revise and clarify the criteria in order to increase the pool of potential applicants. We also call on the Government to reinstate the Tier 1 (Post-study work) visa, so that talented, international graduates, who have chosen to study at a UK higher education institution, are able to contribute further to the UK economy through working here. Finally, we recommend that the Government removes the cap on Tier 2 (General) visas and reduces the cost of making an application.

Published: 19 July 2018