Cap on immigration announced today – impacts for science still unclear

Posted on November 23, 2010 by


Teresa May has just announced the governments plans to cap non-EU economic migration to the UK. They have recognised the need for elite scientists to move internationally, creating a new route for “exceptional talent”. But this does not cover all scientists, many of whom will still need to enter via the points-based system. We will need to wait for more detail over the next few days on how this is planned to operate before we will know the full impacts for science and research.


In the coalition agreement the government committed to reducing net immigration to the UK. One of the proposed strategies to achieve this was by by capping non-EU immigration through Tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system. This raised concerns across the research community as this is the way many skilled international researchers come into the UK to work so a poorly applied cap might restrict their mobility and damage UK research. Two consultations were launched to advise government on this, by the UK Border Agency and the Migration Advisory Committee and the government were expected to announce their plans before Christmas, with them coming into force in April 2011. For more background check out this amrc briefing.

The Migration Advisory Committee consultation was published last week – more details in my previous post -and David Cameron advised us that we could expect an announcement in the coming week.

What happened today?

Teresa May made a statement to the commons today announcing the government’s plans and publishing the UK Border Agency consultation.

The Home Office press release with more details is here

The really interesting headlines for science are:

  • Tier 1 has been considerably reduced to 1000. Tier 1(general) has been closed.
  • Tier 2 has been increased by 7000 to 20,700
  • The overall new annual limit is 21,700. A reduction from 28,000 previously.
  • The need for elite scientists to move internationally has been recognised. In Tier 1 the 1000 is for a new “exceptional talent” route capturing those across all disciplines including science who will bring exceptional talent to the UK. Also coming though this route will be investors and entrepreneurs – i.e. wealth-creators – for which there will be no limit.
  • Those coming through tier 2 will have to be graduate-level.
  • There will be no limit on intracompany transfers, but the minimum salary for those coming for more than 12 months will be £40,000 p.a.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee will review where the cap should be set annually.

The details of how this will be applied will be available from UK Border Agency here shortly.

What now?

We need to work out what this actually means for scientists. The new exceptional talent route capped at 1000 per annum is proposed to ensure elite scientists can enter the UK to work. But 1000 is a relatively small number for a category which will include exceptional talent from across research, academia, the arts etc. It is also not clear how those displaying exceptional talent will be identified – Teresa May suggested during the debate following her statement that the research councils may play some role in this but we will need to clarify this. It is likely that researchers will also be able to enter the UK through the revised tier 2 route – we will need to ensure that the awarding of points in the points based system does not disadvantage researchers who, for example, tend to be relatively lower paid than other professionals. UPDATE – CaSE has done some initial analysis – check it out here. The next focus for the science and research community will be urging the government to revise the criteria they use to select people to enter through Tier 2 to ensure scientists’ skills are recognised and they have a fair chance of entering the UK to work.

Also, government is now planning to launch a consultation by the end of the year focusing on Tier Four of the points based system – the route by which students enter the UK. We will again have to look at this carefully to ensure it does not have adverse effects on science and research.

See the Campaign for Science & Engineering’s initial reaction here.

Posted in: Policy