The Government is proposing to cap the number of non-EU economic migrants entering the UK at 21,700 per year – what does this mean for the UK science sector?
“The UK needs international talent more than international talent needs the UK”
Around one in seven science and engineering academics in Higher Education are from outside the EU according to Home Office statistics, but the Government is proposing a cap of 21,700 on all non-EU immigrants – approximately four-fifths of the number of migrants that came into the UK in 2009; a year when immigration was less because of the recession.
The cap will limit the number of all migrants coming into the UK – not just talented scientists and engineers. Under new immigration rules, if you don’t have a degree – and a job that requires it – you won’t even be considered for entry into the UK, unless you are an “exceptional talent.” Footballers, ministers of religion, entrepreneurs or investors, anyone commanding a salary of £150,000 or more and inter-company transfers won’t be counted under the cap.
The cap will eliminate roughly a third of the applicants for skilled worker visas say the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), but “if the rules are correctly calibrated, we hope that enough scientists and engineers with be able to enter the UK to meet the sector’s needs.”
CaSE will work with the UK Border Agency to help develop a system for identifying talent – due to be published in April 2011. Skilled worker visas will be split into Tier 1 (Exceptional talent), Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-company transfers or ICTs).
The new Tier 1 will be limited to 1,000 people – who don’t need to have a job offer to enter the country – a year and include exceptionally talented individuals including senior scientists and engineers, as well as those from other fields. CaSE want top scientists and engineers to be exempt even from Tier 1 arguing that it could be counterproductive and damaging to the UK’s interest, and that the UK Border Force faces a huge difficulty in allocating places to the different sectors.
“Do they allocate 700 places to Academia, 200 to the Arts and 100 to everything else,” CaSE ask. “If so, on what basis are those decisions made? It is difficult to see how such allocations could be anything but arbitrary, especially given the timescale for the decisions.”
Tier 2 (General) applicants must have a job offer before they can enter the country and must have a degree-level qualification and intermediate level English. Those granted a certificate of sponsorship from their employer have three months to apply for their visa. There will be 20,700 visas available over the course of the year – 1,700 per month CaSE believe – which will be valid for three years with the possibility of a two-year extension.
Individuals will be rated on their quality of their application; whether the job is on the Shortage Occupation list (which included a number of science and engineering professions); their level of qualification; and salary in their new job. This last point could be a problem, because scientists and engineers usually command a lower salary that people with equivalent skills in other sectors.
“We must not continue with a system where researchers are discriminated against because they choose a relatively low-paying career,” argue CaSE. “Instead they should be selected on the basis of their ability to contribute to the UK.”
Tier 2 (ICTs) will allow multi-national companies to transfer their employees to the UK, and will not count towards the immigration cap. But there are still provisions – employees earning over £40,000 can stay for up to five years, but those earning between £24,000 and £39,000 will only be granted a year’s stay.
It seems some of the ins and out of immigration cap still need to be ironed out, but as CaSE have said: “It seems the Government has yet to accept the notion that the UK needs international talent more than international talent needs the UK”.