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UK offers fast track visas to top researchers and scientists

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m342 (Published 28 January 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m342
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. The BMJ

An expanded visa scheme to make it easier for leading researchers and scientists to work in the UK after Brexit will launch on 20 February, the Home Office has announced.

The Global Talent entry route, first announced by the government last August,1 will replace the existing Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route, effectively expanding it with a few key changes.

The Exceptional Talent route was set up to enable recognised leaders in certain sectors and people with exceptional promise to work in the UK. The relevant areas range from science and technology, through engineering and architecture, to fashion, film, and television.

Unlike the Exceptional Talent route, which caps the number of visas that can be issued at 2000 a year for all disciplines covered, Global Talent visas will not be capped.

There will be four paths to obtaining a visa through the new route (box 1). UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will endorse applicants under the fast track endorsed funders route. The Royal Society will conduct peer review of standard applicants as the designated body for applications in the fields of medical and natural sciences and will also administer the other fast track routes.

Box 1

Paths to obtaining a visa through the Global Talent route

  • Senior appointments—Fast track endorsement for people who have accepted a post of professor, associate professor, reader, senior group leader, or equivalent at any UK higher education institution or eligible research institute, subject to certain recruitment requirements.

  • Fellowships—Fast track endorsement for applicants who have been awarded an individual fellowship on an approved list.

  • Endorsed funders—Fast track endorsement for researchers and specialists whose name or job title is specified in a successful grant application from an endorsed funder approved by UKRI.

  • Peer review—Standard endorsement for people who submit a successful application that is reviewed by experts in their discipline at a designated body.

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Figures provided to The BMJ by the Home Office show that 550 people from all disciplines were awarded visas through the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route in 2018, and 560 were awarded them in the first three quarters of 2019.

Although this is below the 2000 annual cap, more applications are expected after Brexit.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, mentioned the new scheme last summer as part of a commitment to prioritise science, research, and innovation, amid warnings from leading UK scientists that Brexit could cripple UK science by stifling the flow of researchers, ideas, funding, and collaboration.2

After the full announcement this week, Johnson said, “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.”

Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said, “The government has listened to the research community, and this is an important first step in creating the visa system that we need for attracting global scientific talent—one that is welcoming, faster and more flexible, and takes into account the long term aspirations of scientists and their families.”

Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said, “The visa route will help to ensure that universities can attract the brightest scientists and researchers to the UK with minimal barriers.”

Beth Thompson, head of UK/EU policy at the research charity the Wellcome Trust, said, “The new Global Talent visa represents a big step towards making the immigration system work for research, and we’re looking forward to exploring the details.”

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