39.The purpose of our inquiry has been to produce proposals for a new immigration system that works for science and innovation and could be put in place as we leave the EU. When taking evidence, however, we heard about modifications that could be made to the existing system for non-EEA migrants. While we do not suggest that this system should be applied, by default, to EEA migrants after we leave the EU, we do highlight how it could be improved before Brexit. This Chapter therefore sets out changes to Tiers 1 and 2 of the UK’s points-based immigration system that could enable it to work more effectively for science and innovation. The proposed changes draw on the principles outlined in Chapter 2.
40.The exceptional talent visa route has been designed to facilitate the movement of the ‘brightest and the best’ to the UK, from outside the EEA, in the fields of science, engineering, technology, humanities and social sciences and the arts. Rather than requiring an employer or education provider to sponsor the visa, ‘designated competent bodies’ (DCBs) provide an ‘endorsement’ that the applicant is a leader in their field, and should be considered for the visa. The DCBs are three of the National Academies—the Royal Society, the British Academy and Royal Academy of Engineering—as well as Tech Nation (previously known as TechCity) for digital technologies, and the Arts Council for arts and culture applications.
41.Unlike Tier 2, the Tier 1 visa does not ‘tie’ the applicant to a specific job/role or employer: the visa holder can move freely between organisations, be employed by more than one employer, enter the UK before receiving an offer of employment and apply for settlement. Applicants should either be established leaders in their field or show ‘exceptional promise’ and the potential to become a leader. The initial eligibility criteria include:
Table 1: Initial eligibility criteria
Be an active researcher in a relevant field, typically within a university, research institute or within industry;
Have a PhD or equivalent research experience;
Provide a dated letter of personal recommendation supporting the Tier 1 application from an eminent person resident in the UK who is familiar with your work and your contribution to your field, and is qualified to assess your claim to be a world leader in your field;
Meet one or more of the following Qualifying Criteria.
Be an active researcher in a relevant field, typically within a university, research institute or within industry;
Have a PhD or equivalent research experience (including industrial research);
Provide a dated letter of personal recommendation supporting the Tier 1 application from an eminent person resident in the UK who is familiar with your work and your contribution to your field, and is qualified to assess your claim that you have the potential to be a world leader in your field;
Be at an early stage in your career;
Have been awarded, hold, or have held in the past five years, a prestigious UK-based Research Fellowship, or an international Fellowship or advanced research post judged by the competent body to be of equivalent standing.
Be a member of your national academy or a foreign member of academies of other countries (in particular any of the UK national academies);
Have been awarded a prestigious internationally recognised prize;
Provide a written recommendation from a reputable UK organisation concerned with research in your field. The dated letter must be written by an authorised senior member of the organisation, such as a Chief Executive, Vice-Chancellor or similar, on official paper.
42.The visa is subject to a limit of 2,000 endorsements in total per year, split into two phases. The first 1,000 places in the limit are allocated between the DCBs as follows:
The remaining 1,000 places are unallocated and are available to any DCB once it has used its allocated places. Priority is given based on the date of application. Natasha Bevan from the Royal Society explained that “the Home Office does not reject [the Academies’] endorsement; it takes our endorsement as given. If a visa is subsequently not granted by the Home Office, it will be on a point of general grounds for refusal”.
43.Though the number of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas available annually was doubled recently, from 1,000 to 2,000, the Royal Society of Edinburgh reported that “Home Office immigration statistics show that there were only 409 Exceptional Talent visa applicants in 2017,[...] the highest number of applicants on record”. Professor Catlow from the Royal Society acknowledged that there was a need “to get a higher[...] uptake” of the visa. He thought that this required both improving awareness of the visa as well as less restrictive eligibility criteria, the original wording of which “deterred people who were eligible from applying”. He noted that the original wording referred to “world-class talent” which was “interpreted as the absolute elite of the elite—the Nobel prize level—which was not in fact the original intention”.
44.Vinous Ali from techUK similarly reflected that, “a lot of people still use the Tier 2 route even if they are eligible for the Tier 1 route”. What was required, according to Ian Robinson, was to “broaden the criteria and lower the bar”:
What we got wrong was setting it as ‘exceptional talent’ rather than very, very good talent or something—without being sarcastic just something that little bit lower.
45.At present, the majority of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas do not enable a holder to bring their ‘research team’ with them. The exception is the Tech Nation Visa Scheme, which operates via the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route, and has provision to relocate teams of up to five individuals. The guidance states that:
each team member will be considered individually and must qualify in their own right. Eligibility includes but is not limited to existing teams within an international company which have been acquired by a UK business.
In the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Government committed to “reduce red tape in hiring international researchers and members of established research teams, by relaxing the labour market test and allowing the UK’s research councils and other select organisations to sponsor researchers”. As the system currently stands, however, the team roles would need to be advertised first by the host institution and a resident labour market test would need to be conducted to establish if any settled workers were suitable for the role.
46.The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa offers a clear route into the UK for the very brightest and best from outside the EEA. We are concerned, however, that the eligibility criteria are too stringent and that, when combined with the focus on ‘exceptional talent’, this has led to the assumption that only potential Nobel Prize winners need apply. As a result, take up of the visa has been disappointing.
47.We recommend that the Government works with the ‘Designated Competent Bodies’ to revise, and clarify, the eligibility criteria further for the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa so that the pool of potential applicants is increased. The DCBs should be given the resources to ensure that this route is well-publicised and correctly pitched. The Government should also follow through on its plans to make it easier for members of established research teams to relocate to the UK, alongside their research leader.
48.Until April 2012, students who had studied at a UK higher or further education institution and had a recognised UK Bachelor or Postgraduate degree or diploma (or a higher national diploma from a Scottish institution) were able to apply for a Tier 1 (post-study work) visa. This allowed international (non-EEA) graduates to remain in the UK and look for work without needing a sponsor. Following the closure of this route, only those international graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer, in Tier 2 of the points-based-system, can stay to work.
49.Almost all submissions stressed that it was essential for any future immigration system to provide opportunities for graduates to stay and work after studying in the UK. Many suggested this could be readily achieved by reinstating the post-study work visa. As Ian Robinson from Fragomen explained:
it goes back to what I think everyone has said: once we have educated people, we say, “Find a job in three months, or you’re out.” We need a post-study visa category that allows people to stay, to grow, to develop and to help us. That is what post-study would be.
Vinous Ali from techUK argued that the closure of the post-study work route had left international students, who have chosen “a UK university to train to gain the skills they need to enter the workforce” unable to then contribute to the UK economy. She added that “if they wanted to return to the UK to work, they would have to leave the country and, I understand, apply from outside. It just does not make for a welcoming environment”.
50.The Royal Society of Edinburgh stressed that the status quo was having a “detrimental impact on the ability of Scotland’s universities to attract international students and for them to remain in Scotland following their studies”. According to Ian Robinson, the post-study work route was closed because the UK “had a high proportion of UK graduates looking for work” but that the situation had now changed since “the labour market is certainly at near-full capacity”.
52.Most non-EEA workers who fall into the broad category of ‘science and innovation’ and are admitted to the UK to work in these fields do so under the Tier 2 (General) visa for skilled workers. According to the Government, eligibility for a Tier 2 visa includes:
53.As highlighted in Chapter 2, there are several problems with the operation of the Tier 2 visa as it currently stands:
54.If the Government is committed to maintaining the UK’s position as a science and innovation superpower, it is vital that it facilitates the movement of global talent to work and study in the UK, especially in fields where there are ongoing skills shortages. The removal of doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 visa cap is a welcome step in the right direction. We question, however, whether a cap on highly skilled labour is necessary at all. Removing the cap would reduce pressure on the system, lower the salary threshold and decrease the reliance on the shortage occupation list, which will inevitably lag behind the changing needs of the UK labour market.
57.We recommend that the flexibility shown by the Government to the continuous residency requirements for settled status is also applied to those aiming to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Furthermore, a “research activity” exemption should be established for those who have needed to spend more than 180 days in any 12 months overseas for research purposes.
68 , National Academies, January 2018
69 UK Visas & Immigration, 11 January 2018
70 UK Visas & Immigration, 11 January 2018
71 Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, , Tuesday 19 June 2018
72 Royal Society of Edinburgh ()
77 (Ian Robinson)
79 Tech Nation Visa Scheme, Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa for Digital Technology, , last accessed 9 July 2018. It should be noted that new application guidance was published by Tech Nation on 6 July 2018 which does not explicitly refer to the ability to relocate teams, see .
80 HM Treasury, , HC 587, November 2017
81 Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, , Tuesday 19 June 2018
82 Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, , Tuesday 19 June 2018
83 The Royal Society of Edinburgh ()
84 Science and Technology Committee, Informal Session, , Tuesday 19 June 2018
85 gov.uk, last accessed 4 July 2018
Published: 19 July 2018