New rules for international scientists coming to work in the UK

Posted on February 17, 2011 by


Yesterday, we got a bit more detail on how the immigration system will be changed including some changes to the system which should ensure international scientists can come from outside the EU to work in the UK. There are going to go before Parliament in March, with the aim of coming into force in April 2011.


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.

The Government consulted and in November, Teresa May announced that the cap for tier 1 and 2 would be set at 21,700. 1000 individuals of ‘exceptional talent’ coming through tier 1, and 20,700 individuals coming through tier 2. (see my previous post here for details) Tier 2 operates under the points-based system; applicants needing to earn enough points to enter through this route. The UK Border Agency went away to revise how points should be allocated to individuals applying to tier 2 to fit with the new restrictions. This is important to science because Tier 2 is the main route by which non-EU scientists will enter the UK.

The new system is due to come into force this April (2011).

What happened yesterday?

The UK Border Agency announced how points will be allocated to individual applying to enter the UK through Tier 2 and how the system will operate – you can see their full announcement here.

This had some good news for science.

The Government has made special provision for researchers – defined as anyone with a job offer in one of the following “standard occupational classifications”.

  • 1137 – Research and Development Managers
  • 2111 – Chemists
  • 2112 – Biological Scientists and Biochemists
  • 2113 – Physicists, Geologists and Meteorologists
  • 2311 – Higher Education Teaching Professionals
  • 2321 – Scientific Researchers
  • 2322 – Social Science Researchers
  • 2329 – Researchers not elsewhere classified

People with a job offer in one of these areas will receive additional points. There will be a cap on the number of people able to enter through Tier 2 each month – in the first month 4,200 places will be available. Thereafter the limit will be set at 1,500 places per month. These extra points will mean that researcher’s applications will be prioritised if the monthly cap is exceeded. This will be done on the basis of salary (because UKBA considers salary to provide the best indication that a job is highly skilled), but a researcher with a salary of £23,000 will receive the same level of priority as a non-researcher earning £75,000.

However the recruitment process for employers is still quite complicated; an issue with the old system where this led to delays. (You can see a nice flow diagram showing how it will operate on page 16 of this pdf).

There are several groups of people who will be exempt from this application process and therefore from the immigration cap, including those coming to a job with a salary over £150,000. Meaning that appointments at this salary can take place without the complicated recruitment process.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering, who have been actively campaigning against restrictions on the movement of international scientists to work in the UK, welcomed this as a victory for science:

“I’m delighted that the Government, and the UK Border Agency in particular, have listened and responded to our concerns. They’ve responded with a package that rewards people who want to come and invest their intellectual capital in this country. I think we can see this as an important victory for the science and engineering sector.”

What next?

There are not set in stone quite yet. Parliament needs to take a look at these proposals for how tier 2 will work and decide whether or not to agree to them; this is due to happen in March.

The details of how the 1000 individuals of “exceptional talent” entering through the new Tier 1 will be identified are yet to announced. We should expect to hear something in March.

We’re also waiting to hear back about changes to Tier 4, the route by which non-EU students enter the UK. We recently responded to a consultation on this – see more in my previous post here.

Posted in: Policy