An immigration system that works for science and innovation Contents

2Principles for a future immigration system

11.This Chapter sets out the principles for a future immigration system—applicable to both EEA and non-EEA nationals—that we believe the Government should take on board. The principles have shaped both the amendments we propose to the current non-EEA immigration system in Chapter 3, as well as to our proposal for a new approach to immigration that works for science and innovation in Chapter 4.

Career stage

12.The science and innovation community is not homogenous; people have different types and levels of skill, and are at different stages in their career, all of which will have an impact on their mobility. Several submissions set out the skills, and career stages, that an immigration system needs to support if it is to work effectively for science and innovation. The National Academies noted that:

Strategically valuable individuals include not just successful leaders in research fields, but the early-stage researchers, technologists and technicians with specialist expertise that support them, as well as the students that learn from them.10

13.UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) identified the following categories that an immigration system would need to cater for:

a)Highly skilled people—e.g. researchers, engineers, academics, business founders (characteristics include PhD level roles, Chartered Engineer status);

b)Specialist technicians—e.g. data analysts, cell culture specialists, artificial intelligence experts;

c)Students—including undergraduate, postgraduate taught and PhD students;

d)Dependants of these individuals.11

14.Both Cancer Research UK and the Francis Crick Institute identified immigration policies towards dependents as a key consideration when thinking of re-locating to the UK for work. According to the Francis Crick Institute:

for those on lower salaries, restrictions on bringing dependents can prove a deterrent. For example, if the partner of a PhD student is not permitted to work, that could mean the student is unable to afford to come to London, so we would like to see greater flexibility with regard to the dependents of scientists.12

For the dependents of those who have entered the UK on a Tier 1 or Tier 2 visa (rather than a Tier 4 (student) visa), there appear to be far fewer restrictions on working in the UK.13

Purpose and duration of movement

15.An immigration system must also be sensitive to the purpose, and the proposed duration, of an individual’s stay. Our submissions emphasised that long-term migration—either initiated by an employer who advertises a post, or through the relocation of “research and innovation talent to the UK”—needs to be facilitated, with clear routes to residency made available.14 On the other hand, we heard how short-term migration is also vital to facilitate the types of learning and collaboration found across academia and industry.15 This includes visits to attend conferences, collaborate on a short research project or spend time in a laboratory to learn a new skill. Industry also highlighted occasions where short-term mobility was vital to meeting business needs. Rolls Royce pointed to the “closure of the Tier 2 ICT [Intra-company transfer] short term route”, which it said had:

already been very detrimental to many manufacturing organisations where occasional urgent needs for the temporary cross-border redeployment of their highly specialist engineers to complete specialist work on high value engineering projects has been prevented causing delays to projects, significant additional cost to the employer, loss of competitiveness and damaged customer relationships.16

16.The evidence from Rolls Royce highlighted that short-term movement tends to occur at short-notice.17 While entering as a ‘business visitor’ may be appropriate in some instances, if ‘productive work’ is being undertaken, a visa is usually required. Visas for short-term stays in the UK are available, but the Royal Society of Chemistry described the current system as “burdensome” and that it failed to “recognise the timescales and flexibility required for the UK to benefit from such short-term scientific exchanges”.18

17.During the course of our inquiry, however, the Government announced a new “UKRI Science, Research and Academia” scheme to allow non-EEA researchers, scientists and academics to come to the UK for up to 2 years for training and work experience purposes. The scheme opened for applications on 6 July 2018 and has been added to the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker - Government Authorised Exchange (GAE)) visa route. The scheme is operated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and allows UKRI, along with 12 other approved research organisations, to sponsor highly skilled individuals directly.19 The expectation is that applicants should get a decision on their visa in three weeks.20 This is a welcome development.

Indefinite Leave to Remain rules

18.Researchers holding UK visas are likely to need to undertake further travel, outside the UK, for research and other purposes. Under the current rules, people wishing to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK cannot normally spend more than 180 days overseas in any 12-month period.21 The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) and others saw this as overly restrictive. Dr Sarah Main from CaSE recommended that “research activity” be permitted under ILR rules.22 Louise Wren from the Wellcome Trust noted that “there are [currently ILR] exemptions for people working on economic or humanitarian crises such as the Ebola outbreak” and suggested that these could perhaps be expanded.23

19.Some progress has already been made. The Government indicated recently that the rules for considering applications from EU citizens for “settled status” in the UK, after Brexit, could accommodate research-related travel outside the UK as an “important reason” for a break in continuous residency:

One instance of 12-month absence in a five-year period is permitted for an important reason such as work, study, serious illness or pregnancy. We will be pragmatic about what activity constitutes an important reason.24

Speed of decision-making

20.The Royal Society of Chemistry was not alone in highlighting the need for an efficient, streamlined process that enables a decision to be made quickly on whether to issue a visa (see paragraph 16). The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the BioIndustry Association (BIA) identified the “ease and speed with which biopharmaceutical companies can bring talent to the UK” as a “fundamentally important factor which drives companies to maintain their European headquarters in the UK”.25

21.According to the Wellcome Sanger Institute, delays recruiting staff due to the time spent applying for visas can mean that “valuable science does not get done”.26 It described this as a “scientific loss”, adding that “where funding has come from a UK research council and objectives have not been fulfilled it is also a loss to the UK tax payer”.27 Application delays can also inhibit a researcher’s mobility. The International and Broke Campaign highlighted how the “retention of passports and other documents” by the Home Office “for up to six months while processing applications puts severe constraints on international mobility of researchers and scientists who wish to stay in the UK”, a point echoed by Colin Wilson and Dr Sammie, who both tweeted their comments to our evidence session.28

22.Ian Robinson, from the legal firm Fragomen, told us that, in some respects, the current non-EEA system was working well:

If you are going through a tier 2 and you are a licensed sponsor bringing in an existing employee from overseas, getting the documents together would take a week, the application would take a week and they would be here in a fortnight.29

This, he added, was quicker than most countries. The UK was comparatively slow, however, in situations where “it is a new hire or if you are not already a sponsor”.30 In such cases, Mr Robinson indicated that employers were “looking at between three and six months before the person can get here”.31 He highlighted that documentary requirements for sponsor licencing were “extensive” and needed to be simpler.32

Visa costs for employees and employers

23.Accompanying the calls to speed up, and simplify, the immigration system were concerns about the cost of applying for a visa to work, or study, in the UK. Ian Robinson from Fragomen set out the fees involved:

For a student coming over for three years—these figures are not perfect, but[...] you would be looking at about £1,000 in visa costs. If that student becomes a postgraduate and applies to stay for three years to do a post-doc, they would be looking at about £4,000 or £4,500 in visa and immigration costs.33

When dependants are factored in, the costs are higher:

If you were bringing in a scientist or a tech person for five years and they had a partner and three children, it would cost £16,000 in Government fees, which will go up to £21,000 in September. It is really expensive[...] no other country even comes close to how expensive we are.34

24.Professor Catlow from the Royal Society stressed that charges were a particular problem for post-doctoral researchers who, at this stage in their career, tend to be highly skilled and internationally mobile, but on a modest wage:

One of the big issues with post-docs is the cost of a visa. Post-doc salaries are not very high. If you bring a family, the cost can be absolutely prohibitive. I know a personal case: I wanted to attract a very talented person from outside the EU to my own research group and, when he looked into the cost of bringing his family over, he said, “I simply cannot afford it”.35

25.Employers also expressed concerns about visa costs. TechUK emphasised that the costs related to “the immigration skills charge[...] and the cost of a sponsor licence when sponsoring workers from outside of the UK[...] quickly add up”, thereby making “access to talent increasingly expensive”.36 Dr Sarah Main from the Campaign for Science and Engineering similarly stated that, from the employers’ point of view, “the immigration skills charge [of] £1,000 per person per year for those recruited to the UK from overseas[...] is a burden on employers, and it is off-putting”.37

26.Under section 68 of the Immigration Act 2014, the Government may levy a surcharge above the normal administrative costs of processing visa applications. Subsection (9) allows the Home Secretary to have regard for “the costs of exercising any other function in connection with immigration or nationality”. This has been taken to include the costs of border controls in addition to the administrative cost of providing the visa service.38 Lower immigration-related charges, however, are possible.

27.The Government announced during our inquiry the “settled status” scheme for EU citizens and their families living in the UK who want to continue to do so after June 2021. While full details of the scheme are subject to approval by Parliament, it is estimated that the application cost for adults will be £65 for over 16s and £32.50 for under 16s.39 This is significantly less than the thousands of pounds quoted for non-EEA visa applications in paragraph 23. On the 18 June 2018, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration launched an inquiry into the Home Office’s approach to charging for its services in respect to its asylum, immigration, nationality and customs functions. The inspection will look at:

the rationale and authority for particular charges, including the amounts charged. It will also look at whether the Home Office is providing the services in question efficiently and effectively, including meeting agreed service levels where these exist, and at the means of redress where individuals are dissatisfied with the service they have received.40

Visa Caps

28.Some of the visa routes relied upon by those working in science and innovation are subject to an annual limit. Notably, the Tier 2 (General) route has a cap on numbers, meaning that sponsors (usually employers or education providers) must apply for ‘Restricted certificates of sponsorship’ (RCoS) if they wish to sponsor a non-EEA candidate to fill a vacancy. The restriction applies to “new hire migrants coming to work in the UK from overseas who are earning less than £159,600 per annum”.41 According to the Home Office, the annual RCoS limit for 2017–18 was 20,700 and was divided into 12 monthly allocations.42 UK Visas and Immigration reported in June 2018 that, before December 2017, the cap “had only been reached on one occasion” but that it had “been reached every month since last December”.43

29.The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) analysed Home Office data and found that 6,080 eligible applications for Tier 2 (General) Certificates of Sponsorship, over half of which related to science, engineering, technology, STEM teaching, medicine and innovation, were not granted between December 2017 and March 2018. This was due to the numbers applying exceeding the monthly cap on Tier 2 visa.44 Looking at immigration as a whole, a subsequent FOI disclosure indicated that 10,187 of 18,517 (55%) of Tier 2 applications made in the five months to 5 April 2018 were rejected.45 There is also a cap on the number of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas available, though this has never been reached (see Chapter 3).46

30.CaSE concluded that, due to the Tier 2 cap being reached, “thousands of critical roles are going unfilled, damaging productivity”.47 Similarly, Cancer Research UK stated that the Tier 2 cap “is damaging the UK’s ability to employ experts to key skills gaps and is damaging the appeal of the UK as a place to work”.48 The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Royal Astronomical Society and others called for the cap to be reviewed immediately, something to which the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, has agreed.49 The RSE believed that immigration policy needed to be “informed by objective evidence of skills needs and the social and economic impacts on immigration, as opposed to being based on arbitrary restrictions”.50

31.On 15 June 2018, the Government announced that doctors and nurses, who make up 40% of all Tier 2 places, will be excluded from the Tier 2 cap. The Government stated that the move would also “free up hundreds of additional places a month within the cap for other highly skilled occupations, such as engineers, IT professionals and teachers”.51 While welcoming the announcement, witnesses questioned why a cap remained necessary. As Ian Robinson explained:

We question why you need to cap the number of talented people who are coming in to fill jobs—not just any old job, but at degree level and above—where no suitable residents are available.52

Shortage occupation list

32.The shortage occupation list is an official list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers to fill vacancies. The list is based on recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). Employers who wish to recruit an individual from outside the EEA and Switzerland to fill a vacancy that is on the list may issue a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) without the need to demonstrate that a resident labour market test (RLMT) has been carried out (under the RLMT vacancies must first be advertised to settled workers for 28 calendar days).

33.Several submissions, including those from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, CaSE, UCL, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the British Society for Immunology, called on the Government to exempt occupations on the shortage list from the Tier 2 cap.53 Other submissions questioned whether the shortage occupation list was keeping pace with the changing needs of the UK workforce. Johnson Matthey urged the Government to:

consider revising the way in which the Tier 2 Occupation Shortage List is calculated. The list of occupations rarely ties into specific market needs, and is not dynamic, i.e. we do not see the occupations being updated regularly to fit new scientific roles.54

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry similarly recommended:

reviewing the shortage occupation list annually, with a suggestion of re-orientating the shortage occupation list around themes and identifying emerging job needs, with a view to avoiding gaps in the labour market which could have a material impact on business.55

Prospect, the union, however, raised questions about the suitability of this overall approach and whether a shortage list could “ever be flexible enough to keep pace with constantly and rapidly evolving science and technology roles”.56

Assessing skills

Salary as a proxy for skill

34.The eligibility criteria for a Tier 2 (General) visa requires the applicant to show that they are being paid an “appropriate salary” for the job. This is usually above £30,000.57 When the quota of Tier 2 (General) visas is exceeded, the salary requirement increases. As Johnson Matthey noted:

In the most recent Government disclosure of monthly allocations for certificates of sponsorship for Tier 2 visas—the successful applicant was required to earn approximately a salary of £55,000. Experts have warned this upward trend is set to continue.58

35.Several submissions stressed that relying on salary as a proxy for skill level did not work for academia, as well as some businesses, where there were often highly skilled jobs that attracted a low wage. As the Francis Crick Institute explained, “salary is a[...] poor proxy for skill level[...] Post Doctoral Fellows are highly skilled scientists on relatively low salaries”.59 Universities UK reported that, under the current immigration system, “there is a recognition [by the Government] that individuals in [PhD level] roles are highly educated and highly skilled but may not be earning comparable salaries to similarly qualified professionals in other sectors” and are thus are formally exempt from the £30,000 threshold.60

36.The issue persists, however, for non-PhD level roles. UCL noted that the problem was particularly pronounced for research technicians who do “not exceed the current salary threshold for a ‘high-skilled’ job”.61 Prospect reported that 80% to 89% of technicians fell into this category.62 Pointing to “UK regional wage differentials”, the Royal Society of Edinburgh called for flexibility in the Tier 2 salary thresholds and “more nuanced regional salary criteria”.63 Cancer Research UK cautioned the Government, however, not to go so far as to “devolve immigration policies to the four UK nations” since this was “ likely to decrease the attractiveness of the UK to the research workforce in the future”.64

37.When asked how the Tier 2 system had been performing, Ian Robinson from Fragomen replied that:

Depending on how you look at it, it has been working really well, because it has been limiting the number of people who can come in, which was our intention, but has not been working for most sectors—engineering is an example—because they have not been able to get the people that they need, having proven that there are no Brits or Europeans available to take the job.65

38.Alternative approaches that do not rely on using salary as a proxy for skill were proposed in evidence submitted to us. Johnson Matthey suggested that:

Rather than focusing on salary as the sole metric of qualification, businesses—particularly in the science and technology sector—ought to be able to make a successful application based on skills, science capability and business need.66

The Royal Society suggested that:

any researcher who is given an academic appointment or project funding as part of a research programme which is publicly funded (including those provided by the Commission, UKRI, and the UK or other national academies), or who is offered a long-term post in a UK university or research institute, should automatically be guaranteed entry for themselves and for their families.67

10 UK National Academies (IWS0031)

11 UK Research and Innovation (IWS0038), Campaign for Science and Engineering (IWS0036)

12 Francis Crick Institute (IWS0012)

13 UK Visas & Immigration, Points Based System (Dependant) - Policy Guidance, 6 July 2018

14 Royal Society of Edinburgh (IWS0032)

15 Short term is defined as less than one year by the Office for National Statistics and the OECD.

16 Rolls-Royce plc (IWS0002)

17 See also Prospect (IWS0029)

18 Royal Society of Chemistry (IWS0025)

19New scheme for overseas researchers to come to the UK,, last accessed 9 July 2018

20Tier 5 (Temporary Worker - Government Authorised Exchange) visa,, last accessed 9 July 2018

22 Q56 (Dr Main)

23 Q56 (Louise Wren)

25 Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the BioIndustry Association (IWS0022)

26 Wellcome Sanger Institute (IWS0013)

27 ibid

28 International and Broke Campaign (IWS0018); see also Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, An immigration system that works for science and innovation, Tuesday 19 June 2018

29 Q5

30 Ibid. Under the current system, a sponsor is usually a licensed employer or education provider. The sponsor must apply for a licence to sponsor migrants under the relevant tier and be put on the register of licensed sponsors. In most cases, applying for a visa is a two-stage process which requires the sponsor and visa applicant to make separate applications to UK Visas and Immigration.

31 ibid

32 Fragomen LLP (IWS0035)

33 Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, An immigration system that works for science and innovation, Tuesday 19 June 2018

34 Q5

35 Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, An immigration system that works for science and innovation, Tuesday 19 June 2018. Figures from UKRI indicate that, in some cases, non-UK postdocs make up as much as 70% of the early researcher population in UK institutes. See UK Research and Innovation (IWS0038)

36 techUK (IWS0041)

37 Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, An immigration system that works for science and innovation, Tuesday 19 June 2018

38 Immigration Act 2014 c.22 s.68 (9)(c)

41 UK visa sponsorship for employers,, last accessed 4 July 2018

42 Home Office, Restricted certificates of sponsorship (RCoS), version 2.0, 8 March 2018

44 Home Office FOI reveals scale of skilled worker refusals due to visa cap, Campaign for Science and Engineering, 16 May 2018. CaSE added that the figure of 6080 is the number of applications that were refused, not the number of individuals affected as an employer could reapply the following month for a Certificate of Sponsorship for the same role.

46 Royal Society of Edinburgh (IWS0032)

47 Campaign for Science and Engineering (IWS0036)

48 Cancer Research UK (IWS0016)

49 Royal Society of Edinburgh (IWS0032), Royal Astronomical Society (IWS0020), Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the BioIndustry Association (IWS0022); UK will review Tier 2 visa system, says Sajid Javid, Financial Times, 3 June 2018

50 Royal Society of Edinburgh (IWS0032)

53 Royal Society of Edinburgh (IWS0032), Campaign for Science and Engineering (IWS0036), UCL (IWS0007), Wellcome Sanger Institute (IWS0013), Recruitment & Employment Confederation (IWS0017), British Society for Immunology (IWS0015)

54 Johnson Matthey PLC (IWS0037)

55 Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the BioIndustry Association (IWS0022)

56 Prospect (IWS0029)

57 Tier 2 (General) visa, eligibility,, last accessed 3 July 2018

58 Johnson Matthey PLC (IWS0037)

59 Francis Crick Institute (IWS0012)

60 Universities UK (IWS0005). See Table 1 Occupational skilled to PhD-level, Immigration Rules Appendix J: codes of practice for skilled work, 6 April 2018

61 UCL (IWS0007)

62 Prospect (IWS0029)

63 Royal Society of Edinburgh (IWS0032)

64 Cancer Research UK (IWS0016)

66 Johnson Matthey PLC (IWS0037)

67 The Royal Society (IWS0034)

Published: 19 July 2018