More on immigration and science

Posted on March 17, 2011 by

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Two announcements on immigration in the past two days. Yesterday the immigration minister, Damian Green, published the detail of the government’s planned changes to tiers 1 an 2 (routes by which lots of scientists enter the UK). This is pretty much just putting the plans they have outlined before into practice by getting it in the legislation. And today, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee have published the results of their inquiry into immigration and student visas. They’ve made recommendations recognising the value of international students to UK science.

Background

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 changes to the regulations will need to be placed before Parliament and the new system is due to come into force this April (2011).

What’s just happened?

Yesterday Damian Green, the Minister for Immigration, confirmed the detail of the government’s planned changes to immigration rules for tier 1 and tier 2 of the points based system and published a statement of changes to the legislation which will come into force from 6 April 2011.

These are the changes to immigration regulations needed to put in place the plans the government announced back in November including creating 1000 places in tier 1 for individuals showing “exceptional talent” to enter the UK.

A new category for exceptionally talented migrants working in science or the arts will be introduced in tier 1. The scheme will be administered by competent bodies in the arts and science. We will announce the details of these organisations in due course. We will apply a limit of 1,000 places in the first year. That limit, and the success of the route, will be monitored throughout the first year.

The details of how this will work in practice, in particular how the competent bodies will identify individuals of “exceptional talent” and how the 1000 places will be shared out are still being bashed out.

And today the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee have published the results of their inquiry into immigration and student visas. In their recommendations they recognised the value of international students to UK science and providing skills needed in the UK

We urge the Government to safeguard the UK knowledge economy when introducing any proposed changes to the student immigration system. We hope that, in the near future, we will reach a point where we are able to recruit the majority of the required skills from the domestic market but at present, we must rely on international students in order to ensure our international competitiveness.

They also looked at post-study work, something the UK Border Agency is currently considering revising. Medical research charities are concerned how this will change as they fund a lot of PhD students including international students, spending a total of £32.7 million on 1,274 PhD studentships in 2009/10, many of whom will go on to work in the UK.  Restrictions preventing international students from staying in the UK to work after they have completed their study may drive them away at the precise point where they will have developed valuable skills we could capitalise on in both our research base and high-tech industries (more detail here).

We understand the reasoning behind the proposal to close the Post Study Work route but its importance in terms of attracting international students and its use as a 15 method of gaining work experience for certain degrees should not be underestimated. We would ideally suggest that the system be maintained, in the light of the use of post-study work options to attract the best students by our main competitors in the higher education sector. However, if it is to be reformed, we recommend that the Government give careful consideration to either a) introducing a six month visa to look for work 20 with the possibility of an extension of 18 months if the applicant has received the offer of skilled work or is a director of a company which has two full-time equivalent employees; b) limiting the number of institutions whose qualifications entitle the holder to post study work; and c) given concerns about maintaining UK competitiveness in STEM research, exempt STEM graduates from new restrictions 25 until the domestic market is sufficiently robust.

What next?

The new regulations will need to be passed by parliament before they can come into force.

We’re waiting for the UK Border Agency consultation on student visas (tier 4) to report (more details about that consultation and why it’s a concern to medical research charities here)

Posted in: Policy