One event, the 13th International Conference on Materials Chemistry, held in Liverpool in July 2017, brought together 568 delegates from 44 countries. The researchers who gave the 30 plenary talks—who tend to be the most eminent—worked in 11 different countries including China, India, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
This analysis sheds new light on the importance of short-term international mobility to chemistry. The same surely applies to many other disciplines.
The UK is a major partner in a global network that fosters collaborations in research, teaching and innovation, through conferences and networks. Such events contribute to the UK’s reputation in its areas of research strength. Yet even before Brexit actually happens, immigration policy is making it harder for the UK to continue playing this convening role in international research.
We know of several instances of researchers coming from outside the European Economic Area who were not able to attend chemistry conferences because their visa applications were turned down or not processed in time. Media reports going back several years suggest that this problem is not unique to chemistry conferences.
Their true number is difficult to gauge, as it is challenging to collect data on this issue, but such cases surely contribute to a perception of the UK as being unwelcoming to international researchers. We are working to find the extent and causes of the issue, as part of our ongoing evidence gathering on immigration and science.
The UK’s future immigration system must enable both long-term and short-term mobility of scientists. It must include a light-touch, fast system allowing scientists to travel to the UK for short, work-related visits.
Science will have the most benefit to humanity if people across the world meet to exchange ideas. The government must work closely with researchers to design an immigration system that works for science.
*This article also appeared in Research Fortnight