Science front and centre
The recently announced Global Talent Visa is encouraging news. It sends an important message to the world that the UK is committed to its status as a global leader in science and to continued international collaboration. Wider eligibility criteria and no cap on visas should allow for easier entry for top scientists and means they can apply for settlement more easily, should they wish to. We hope this will also help promote a welcoming atmosphere, one of our key asks.
We are still concerned that the changes do not help crucial parts of the chemical sciences community. SMEs, to take just one example, make up 97% of companies in chemical sciences and are the engine room for innovation but remain vulnerable to falling through the cracks in visa reform. The immigration system as a whole must support these employers in getting the right specialist talent.
A (new?) points-based visa system
In October, we responded to a consultation by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the Australian immigration system. The report released last week is a first look at what may influence Government thinking. Its key recommendations are:
- Maintaining the framework for the skilled worker route, known as Tier 2, in the new system
- A new points system for the Exceptional Talent route, known as Tier 1, ‘could’ be implemented as a way of ranking skilled applicants who wish to enter the UK to seek work
- Revises down its recommended salary thresholds for skilled workers
We have long said that the existing framework for Tier 2 is not fit for purpose. Whilst decision-making ought to remain with employers in science and innovation, the route is expensive by international standards and more than half of respondents to a RSC employer survey said that visa applications typically took more than two months to process. SMEs, for example, are exactly the kind of employers who derive great benefit from flexible access to specialist skills, yet find the current visa system inaccessible or hard to navigate.
The Global Talent visa was designed in close consultation with the science community and this is one of its key achievements. Adding a points system to Tier 1 risks undermining measures such as expanding the eligibility criteria and removing numbers caps, but also risks disregarding a model of policy development that has clearly worked. The Government should learn from the success of the Global Talent visa by designing a new framework for the rest of the visa system, particularly Tier 2, that reflects the needs of science and business as well as ensuring it is as welcoming as the Global Talent visa. Only through consultation with the science community and business can this be achieved.
The chemistry workforce
The UK chemistry workforce often benefits from scientists from around the world. But the chemical sciences community also agrees that developing skills in the workforce is an important area for our community. To complement our work on the future UK immigration system as it relates to science, we will also be using this year to understand better the current and future skills needs of the chemical sciences community.
The increasingly international and interdisciplinary nature of science means cross-border collaboration, access to existing skills and educating for the future are all equally vital. The UK must continue to play its part in both the international brain circulation through a flexible and welcoming visa system whilst training and educating people in the right skills for the future.