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An immigration system that works for science and innovation

27 July 2018 James Ritchie Immigration

McGill & Co and co immigration lawyers edinburgh glasgow sml

In a report published on 19 July 2018, the Science and Technology Committee have called on the UK Government to ensure that a post-Brexit UK immigration system facilitates the mobility of the science and innovation community. The Committee previously submitted a recommendation for the Governments’ Migration Advisory Committee, asking the Government to conclude their immigration arrangements with the EU by October 2018.

This recommendation was rejected, and so in lieu of any plan by the Government, the Committee have developed their own proposal, as they state:

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.

The proposal is based on principles;

  1. to support individuals with different types and levels of skill, and who are at different career stages, as well as their dependents;
  2. to facilitate both long-term and short-term stays in the UK;
  3. to enable further travel, outside the UK, for research purposes, without it harming an individual’s ability to apply for indefinite leave to remain;
  4. for an efficient, streamlined and low-cost application process for employees and employers;
  5. to readily recruit highly skilled people, wherever they are from, without being subject to an annual limit; and
  6. to assess skills in a way that is not wholly reliant on salary as a proxy for skill.

For short-term migration, the Committee have proposed that the Government create a system for skilled workers, which would provide entry to the UK for 180 days which is both visa-free and permit-free. The proposal states that eligibility verification will be established at the border, whereupon skilled workers must prove their intent to leave within that period, and provide a letter from their employer indicating the nature of the skilled work. The scheme appears to expand the standard visitor visa to remove a great deal of restriction placed on the definition of ‘work’, similar to the US ESTA which allows travellers to enter the US for business or tourism for 90 days or less.

For long-term migration to the UK, they outline a five-year skilled work permit for those with a minimum salary which reflects the going rate for that occupation, or an offer of employment mirroring these specifications. This new permit would be comparable the ‘talent passport’ model which is used in France, which includes categories such as scientists, where applicants need only a ‘hosting agreement’ and the equivalent of a Master’s degree to apply for a four year visa.

Modifying the non-EEA immigration system

The Committee believe the future immigration system should take into consideration:

  • career stage;
  • rules relating to Indefinite Leave to Remain;
  • purpose and duration of movement;
  • speed of decision-making;
  • visa costs for employees and employers;
  • visa caps;
  • shortage occupation list; and
  • salary as a proxy for skill.

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)

At present, applications are only considered if the applicant can obtain an endorsement from one of the ‘designated competent bodies’, such as the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering.

It is identified by the Committee that the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa is a rigid route for those wishing to enter the UK, which they state “has led to the assumption that only potential Nobel Prize winners need apply. As a result, take up of the visa has been disappointing.”

As part of their proposal, the Committee recommended that the Government works with the designated competent bodies to revise and clarify the criteria for eligibility so as to attract more potential applicants. The Committee state that the Government should provide the designated competent bodies with the resources to ensure that this route is well-publicised and correctly pitched, Professor Catlow of the Royal Society acknowledges that the original wording of the requirements was “interpreted as the absolute elite of the elite – the Nobel prize level – which was not in fact the original intention

(Post-study work) visa

The Committee remind us that until April 2012, students who had studies at a UK higher or further education institution and had a recognised UK Bachelor or Postgraduate degree or diploma, were able to apply for a Tier 1 (post-study work) visa.

Citing “almost all” submissions for a future immigration system, the report highlights that it was essential to allow graduates to stay and work after studying in the UK. In effect, the Committee recommended that the Government re-instates the Tier 1 (post-study work) visa route for graduates with a recognised degree from a UK higher education institution.

Tier 2 (General) visa

A myriad of problems with the operation of the Tier 2 visa are identified in the report, such as:

  • the growing number of visa refusals due to the Tier 2 (General) cap being exceeded every month since December 2017;
  • the reliance on salary as a proxy for skill. This has proven highly problematic for those skilled workers, such as technicians, who are essential to the science and innovation workforce but who receive a low wage;
  • the increase in the salary threshold, to over £55,000, to differentiate between applicants when the cap is met exacerbates the problem further;
  • the high cost of applying for a visa, particularly for those in the early stages of their career, such as post-doctoral students;
  • the shortage occupation list (SOL), which is not keeping pace with the changing needs of the UK labour market. There have also been calls to remove those occupations on the SOL from the Tier 2 cap;
  • indefinite leave to remain rules, which mean that visa holders looking settle in the UK cannot normally spend more than 180 days overseas in any 12-month period. This can hamper mobility, especially for researchers needing to undertake longer stretches outside the UK for fieldwork or other reasons.

With a view to ameliorating some of the obstacles for those skilled workers who wish to work in the UK, the Committee recommends that the Government:

  • remove the cap on Tier 2 (General) visas;
  • reduces the cost of applying for a visa;
  • reviews the operation of the shortage occupation list.

Whether the Government will take heed of these proposals remains to be seen.

It should be noted that a number of policies which the Committee propose to alter were originally announced by the Prime Minister whilst she was Home Secretary, thus it seems unlikely that proposals such as re-instating the post-study work visa will ever come to fruition. On the other hand, with the removal of doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 visa cap and the rule change for breaks in continuous residency, the Government have shown a degree of flexibility on immigration policy.

If you are an academic or researcher and would like more information tailored to your circumstances, we offer consultations and a full application service to provide advice and assistance on the best course of action to take to secure your visit to the UK.

Contact McGill & Co UK Immigration Solicitors Today

At McGill & Co, we have significant experience in entry clearance and visit visa applications. If you require assistance with a visit visa application or refusal, please do not hesitate to contact us online online.



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