In a move widely praised by higher education bodies in the UK, the number of fast-track visas allowing scientists from abroad to undertake research at UK universities will double from 62 to more than 120, the Home Office has confirmed.
UK home secretary Priti Patel announced she will immediately increase the number of eligible fellowships that can benefit from accelerated visas by 100%.
Patel said the decision, which allows academics to live in the UK for up to five years, was designed to keep the UK “at the forefront of innovation”.
The rise in numbers will come into effect next year, Patel confirmed.
Individuals who receive these select fellowships will only need to provide a letter from the relevant funding organisation, which will see them fast-tracked to the Home Office visa application stage where immigration checks will be carried out, according to the government.
The move follows warnings from sector stakeholders of a significant scientific skills shortage and potential harm to their global reputation in the wake of Britain exiting the EU.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has already announced that after Brexit there will be no cap on researchers from across the globe coming to the UK, as long as they are endorsed by recognised British bodies.
Responding to the announcement, Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said it would “help attract the brightest and best research stars to the UK at a time when our place on the world stage is changing”.
“We share the government’s aim to build on the UK’s position as a global science and research superpower.
“Combined with the government’s commitment to invest in research funding and ensure we meet the 2.4% target by 2027, this will support universities to preserve the UK’s world-leading reputation for research,” Jarvis added.
Ben Moore, policy analyst at the Russell Group, added that the announcement shows the government is serious about reforming the immigration system to ensure the country can attract leading international talent.
“The next step will be to allow universities to recruit all staff essential to research, including early-career researchers and laboratory technicians, through the planned Global Talent visa and new points-based system, he said.
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