Impact of the UK Points-based Immigration System on STEM Higher Education and Research

01 March 2013


To satisfy the Government's aim to reduce net migration by an order of magnitude, there have been some recent changes in immigration policy. 

The RSC agrees with the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) and the Royal Society (RS) that it is important the changes do not negatively impact the UK's research base. We believe that attracting world-class researchers to the UK is essential to maintaining the UK's reputation as the best place to do science: the UK must be seen as "open for business" and welcoming to scientists and researchers.


The RSC therefore makes the following recommendations:

  • The Government must make it clear to the international community that genuine international students are vital to and welcome in the UK and that only non-genuine students are being excluded. Restrictions on genuine students are seen to be detrimental to the UK higher education sector.

  • Qualified and competent scientists and engineers should not be counted in the UK's immigration cap on numbers. For the UK to be an effective Science Hub and for the STEM research base to continue to drive the economy, research must continue to innovate and this requires bringing people together with different backgrounds and viewpoints. 

  • The RSC (alongside others in the STEM community, including the Royal Society and CaSE), does not support the proposed 'sunset clause' that allows the automatic removal of occupations on the SOL after 2 years.  Several of the listed occupations include scientific and engineering positions that are strategically vital to the UK. 

  • Researchers who have been awarded prestigious Fellowships (such as those from the Royal Society) should be given automatic entry under the exceptional talent Tier 1 route. These changes would demonstrate the UK's commitment to being an international Science Hub that is welcoming to scientists and researchers and "open for business". 

  • The procedures for switching visas from the Tier 5 temporary worker route to other tiers should be reviewed for those who have won UK awards or Fellowships so researchers do not have to return to their country of origin as the current procedures are costly and time-consuming.



Overview of the points-based tiered immigration system 
The UK's points-based tier system is for non-European Union migrants wishing to come to the UK to work, study, invest or train. The system is composed of four tiers with each tier having different conditions, entitlements and entry requirements for migrants wishing to work in the UK:

  • Tier 1: Entrepreneurs, investors, graduate students and those who meet the requirements of the exceptional talent visa category. This now includes a graduate study entrepreneur visa for up to 1000 foreign graduates already studying within the UK.

  • Tier 2: Skilled workers who have a job offer.

  • Tier 4: Foreign students wishing to study in the UK.

  • Tier 5: Youth mobility and temporary workers, e.g. working holiday agreements.

Visa holders from Tiers 1, 2 and 4 are eligible to switch to another tier from within the UK if they can meet the requirements of that tier.


Recent Government changes on immigration and their effect on the UK science base
Whilst meeting their aim of reducing net migration from 240,000 to a few tens of thousands by reducing numbers and being more selective about the type of immigrants the UK needs, the Home Office (HO) maintains it is keen to protect and encourage the UK as a science hub and have highlighted five key areas of change as being positive for the science and engineering community:

  1. The new exceptional talent route introduced under Tier 1 allows for up to 1000 individuals: the assessments on who is exceptionally talented are made by the RS, Royal Academy of Engineering, British Academy and the Arts Council. The HO is looking at raising awareness of the route as its take-up is low. 

  2. The cap on Tier 2 is 20,700 for the next two years: the Resident Labour Market Test has been relaxed for advertising high-level jobs. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) reviewed the Codes of Practice for Tier 2 occupations in 2012 with particular reference to salary requirements. 

  3. Certain Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange schemes have been kept at 24 months: these include research, fellowships and training schemes in the field of science and medicine. 

  4. A new visitor route for "permitted paid engagements" opened on the 6 April 2012: this allows a defined list of professionals to come in for up to 1 month for specific prearranged fee-paying engagements such as paid lectures, examining students or participating in selection panels.

  5. Changes have been made to Tier 4 visas to promote entrepreneurship and streamline visa applications for low risk nationalities: students are now allowed to start work on a business idea as soon as they submit the appropriate application and the list of low-risk nationalities now also includes Botswana and Malaysia.

Downloadable Files

Migration Advisory Council - Report on Immigration
Download the full report
PDF icon PDF (2708k)  

PDF files require Link icon Adobe Acrobat Reader

Related Links

Link icon Campaign for Science and Engineering
Read the Immigration Policy

External links will open in a new browser window


Dr Isolde Radford
Higher Education Programme Manager
Royal Society of Chemistry, Thomas Graham House, Milton Road, Science Park, Cambridge CB4 0WF
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 432350
Email: Dr Isolde Radford