A fast-track route into UK workforces awaits the world’s top scientists when a new government via scheme comes into force next month – but its successful implementation is vital or ‘UK innovation will take a substantial hit’.
The bespoke Global Talent route will place no cap on the number of people able to come to the UK or the length of their stay, provided they fulfil key criteria of being expert in the field of science, research or mathematics.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the new visa scheme demonstrates a government commitment to put science, research and innovation at the top of the national business agenda.
He said: “The UK has a proud history of scientific discovery, but to lead the field and face the challenges of the future we need to continue to invest in talent and cutting-edge research.
“That is why as we leave the EU I want to send a message that the UK is open to the most talented minds in the world, and stand ready to support them to turn their ideas into reality.”
The reforms to the Global Talent route coincide with government investment of up to £300m to fund experimental and imaginative mathematical sciences research by the very best global talent over the next five years.
The funding forms part of the government’s ambitions to boost research and development spending and establish the UK as a global science superpower.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The UK is a world leader in science, with research and innovation that changes lives being undertaken every day in this country.
“To keep the UK at the forefront of innovation, we are taking decisive action to maximise the number of individuals using the Global Talent route including world-class scientists and top researchers who can benefit from fast-tracked entry into the UK.”
And Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Leaving the EU gives us new freedom to strengthen research and build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow.
“By attracting more leading international scientists and providing major investment in mathematics, we can make the UK a global science superpower and level up our country.”
The move has been welcomed by the business and education sectors – with the caveat that the system must not be derailed by Brexit before it even begins.
UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “Today’s announcements further underline the importance of research and innovation to the future success of the UK and the government’s continued commitment and investment.
“Working with the government, UK Research and Innovation is ensuring that the UK remains a globally leading environment for research and innovation.
“Our ambition is clear: to create a stronger research and innovation environment that is focused on supporting talented people and realising the full potential of their work.”
Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “We share the Prime Minister’s vision to position the UK as a magnet for global science and research talent.
“The Global Talent visa is a positive step towards this for UK universities. The visa route will help to ensure that universities can attract the brightest scientists and researchers to the UK with minimal barriers.
“Universities are globally connected and this announcement signals that the UK remains open to talent from around the world.
“Our universities carry out life-changing research and our knowledge base, economy, and wider society will benefit from the international staff we can attract through this visa route.
Mark Smith, Partner at Innovation Incentives at Ayming UK & Ireland, said: “This is a positive step but the government will need to tread carefully. In order to hit our R&D expenditure targets, we must retain access to the EU’s giant pool of talent.
“73 per cent of respondents from our recent report said that the factor which most influences their organisation’s ability to undertake R&D activity is access to talent.
“As it stands, EU workers account for around half of the scientific workforce in the UK, so this talent pipeline must remain firmly open or UK innovation will take a substantial hit.
“The success of all research is dependent on highly-skilled labour and it can be very tricky to attract and retain talent.
“The more talent the UK has in this field, the more businesses can allocate to R&D spending. It’s impossible to budget for R&D activity if you don’t have the resources to do it.”