An immigration system that works for science and innovation Contents

4Proposals for an immigration system

58.We recommended previously that agreeing a Brexit science and innovation ‘pact’ with the EU should be an early priority for the Government, not least as it would set a positive tone for the rest of the trade negotiations.86 We proposed that the conclusions of the Migration Advisory Committee be brought forward to support this, so that the ‘people’ element of the pact could be tackled. This recommendation was rejected by the Government.87 Given the urgency of the situation, we have set out below a model for an immigration system that would support science and innovation. This will require further development by experts in the community and the Home Office, working to ‘co-create’ a system that can be implemented.

59.The White Paper on the future relationship between the UK and the EU proposes a series of “accords”, including one on science and innovation. Whether reciprocal mobility arrangements for scientists and researchers form part of this accord or are formalised in a free trade deal, the immigration system needs to sit in the wider context of arrangements for participation in research programmes, cooperation on regulation, and collaboration to support science and innovation. The White Paper proposes that the science and innovation accord should:

60.We developed our immigration proposals with assistance from experts in the community, but the proposals are our own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the participants in our workshop or their organisations. Participants are listed in the appendix to this Report.

61.We present our proposals alongside a small number of examples of equivalent systems in other countries as precedents for this type of approach. In presenting these proposals, we recognise that a credible system is one that is enforceable, with the means of assessing the identity, eligibility and suitability of those wishing to make use of the facility it provides. Moreover, there are broader considerations for the labour market that the Government will need assurances on. Meanwhile, for the sake of the employer and proposed employee the system must be swift, proportionate, practical and affordable. Finally, it must also be stable in the long term.

62.With stability in mind, we suggest that in the first instance the Government views these proposals as a means of solving the question of how EEA immigration will work after the expected post-Brexit transition period. However, we see no reason why the same systems should not be extended to other countries after we leave the EU, if the ‘suitability’ of the individual can be reliably assessed for those travelling from countries where security concerns may be particularly acute.

63.The proposals have been crafted to tackle the pressing matter of EEA migration to the UK after we leave the EU. If this system truly supports science and innovation, as we believe it will, then there are clear advantages to applying it for other, non-EEA countries, not least the simplicity of having a single, clear system. The detail of the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU, however, is still to be established. Following the Cabinet meeting at Chequers on the 6 July, for example, the Prime Minister did not rule out preferential treatment for EU citizens wishing to come to the UK after Brexit.89 Negotiations on the immigration system might be inextricably tied up in a settled trade, legal and security relationship. It would be inappropriate, therefore, to insist that whatever arrangements are negotiated with the EU automatically form the basis for non-EEA immigration, much as we would hope that a single system could be created.

64.Any approach adopted by the Government towards those EEA nationals who move to the UK in the future would ideally be reciprocated by the EU 27,90 and such arrangements could be encapsulated in a free trade agreement. Indeed, the Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee this month that:

In any trade deal—whether that is with the EU or any future trade deals we might do once we have left the EU—there is normally a component about labour mobility, especially on everything from your visitors, tourism to business visitors, and it will refer to that. That is the kind of thing you would be looking at in any trade agreement.91

He added that in bilateral arrangements on movement of people there could be different provisions for different categories of people: “when it comes to students, for example, and maybe even scientists, you want to take a common-sense approach to that”.92

65.The Government must ensure, however, that highly skilled EEA nationals continue to be able to work and collaborate in the UK: this should not be curtailed by what Member States are, or are not, willing to offer UK citizens. We encourage the Government to take the lead and be clear and pragmatic about the terms it is prepared to offer.

Box 1: Proposals for temporary migration to the UK


  • Research relies on being able to easily collaborate face-to-face, and to make use of equipment, for relatively short periods.


  • Visa-free travel and permit-free work in the UK for up to 180 days for skilled workers. Eligibility 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.

Precedents for this model

  • The current UK provisions for Canadian and US visitors to the UK, which allow visitors from these countries to do academic research, attend conferences and undertaken training for up to six months without a visa.93
  • The US ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) available for those travellers eligible to enter the US, for business or tourism, under the Visa Waiver Program for 90 days or less.

Box 2: Proposals for longer-term migration to the UK


  • The UK must be able to attract and retain skilled workers to support researchers—both the “brightest and best” of the research world and technicians which support scientific endeavour. Those wishing to apply for indefinite leave to remain should not be disadvantaged where the nature of their work involves periods spent outside the UK,


  • A five-year skilled work permit for those with either:
    • an offer of employment, with minimum salary rates based on the ‘going rate’ for the job, reflecting regional and public/private sector differences in salary. Specifically, those who are part of the research workforce and have a long-term job offer, placement or training opportunity at a UK university or research institute should automatically be guaranteed entry for themselves and for their families.
    • Third party sponsorship—grant holders, entrepreneurs, founders, freelancers, with minimum salary requirements as above.
  • Light-touch sponsorship system supported by registration of employer, harnessing artificial intelligence and HMRC data to fast-track approval and the online systems being developed for EEA national registration. Any small company should find it cheap, easy and quick to register, with simple systems for confirming offers of employment and salary, and a duty to declare if the individual has left that employment. However, there should also be suitable penalties for those who abuse the system.
  • ‘Skilled worker’ defined as requiring Level 3 qualifications or above in order to include technicians.
  • Dependents allowed.
  • No shortage occupation list, on the basis that this will always be out of date.

Precedents for this model

  • The French ‘talent passport’ model, which includes a scientist category amongst others. In the scientist category, researchers who have a ‘hosting agreement’ and the equivalent of a Master’s degree or above can apply for a visa for up to four years, with family members also able to apply for residence permits and able to work.94

Box 3: Proposals for post-study work


  • Enabling people who have graduated with a recognised qualification from a UK HEI to seek employment without needing an employer to sponsor them.


  • Reinstate the previous UK two-year Tier 1 (post-study work) visa.95

66.We recommend that the Government uses our immigration proposal as the basis for further, detailed work with the science and innovation community to ‘co-create’ an immigration policy; one that facilitates the global movement of talent into the UK and helps to ensure the UK maintains its world-class status in innovation, research and development.

67.The Prime Minister has called for a “far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU, facilitating the exchange of ideas and researchers”.96 We have recommended previously that agreeing such a pact should be an early priority for the Government in the Brexit negotiations.97 More recently, the Brexit White Paper described a science and innovation “accord”. Our proposals for an immigration system, after further development with the community, should be integrated into this wider accord on science and innovation, which should also cover:

86 Science and Technology Committee, Second Report of 2017–19, Brexit, science and innovation, HC 705, para 40

87 Science and Technology Committee, Fifth Special Report of 2017–19, Brexit, science and innovation: Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report, HC 1008, p2

90 As well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

91 Oral Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 10 July 2018, Q396

92 Oral Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 10 July 2018, Q424

93Check if you need a UK visa’,, accessed 10 July 2018

94International talents and economic attractiveness’, France-Visas, accessed 5 July 2018

97 Science and Technology Committee, Second Report of Session 2017–19, Brexit, science and innovation, HC 705

Published: 19 July 2018