International collaboration and mobility is fundamental for good research and innovation.
In 2017, this report commissioned by the Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society, survyed over 1200 of the UK’s leading researchers, with 95% having been part of at least one international collaboration in the previous five years and more than half having spent at least one year working abroad.
The Exceptional Talent Tier 1 visa is a way of allowing recognised researchers with exceptional talent and emerging researchers with exceptional promise to work in the UK.
Each year, the UK Border Agency welcomes up to 2000 people who are internationally recognised as world leaders in the fields of science and the arts, and who wish to work in the UK. The UKBA works with five ‘designated competent bodies’ (The Royal Society, The Royal Academy of Engineering, the Arts Council, Tech City and the British Academy) to carry out peer review on the applications in their fields. The designated competent bodies help to identify the very best applicants, and also those with exceptional promise. Although the Academy of Medical Sciences is not itself a competent body, it helps the Royal Society with applications for clinical researchers.
In January 2018, a Research and Innovation Talent Visa was introduced as part of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route by the British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society.
The Research and Innovation Talent Visa comprises two streams, one for applicants who are leaders in their field and another for those who have the potential to be future leaders. Under the new process, applicants who have received a senior job offer at a UK Higher Education Institution (HEI) or eligible research institute will apply through a simplified process (avoiding duplication of paperwork) and be guaranteed an endorsement of their application, providing they meet all criteria and submit relevant evidence. The eligible positions are Professor, Associate Professor and Reader at a HEI or equivalent positions at a research institute, such as Senior Group Leader.
At the same time, the list of peer-reviewed research fellowships that are eligible for the accelerated process for ‘Exceptional Promise’ was expanded to include fellowships awarded by the Research Councils UK, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust, as well as the Academies.
There are some benefits to holding a Research and Innovation Talent Visa compared to holding a regular Tier 2 visa. Tier 1 visas are provided from a different pool from Tier 2 visas, and may offer an alternative route into the UK at times when Tier 2 visas reach their cap level. Tier 1 visas also offer greater flexibility, allowing recipients to change jobs and employers without reporting it to the Home Office, and to start a company without need of changing visa type. Similarly to Tier 2 visas, Research and Innovation Talent Visa holders can bring family members to the UK with them, but with the added benefit of being able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 3 years. Finally, holding a Talent visa is considered a marker of prestige in its own right.
To find out more details on Tier 1 visas, as well as the criteria for each of the designated competent bodies, please visit the UK Border Agency website. For further information about the Research and Innovation Talent Visa, please visit the Royal Society website.
The Academy has been engaged with the Migration Advisory Committee’s reviews of Tier 2 visas. The Committee was commissioned by the Home Secretary to consult and report on various aspects of the current Tier 2 visa system, which represents the major route for non-EEA international researchers entering the UK research base.
The Academy submitted evidence to the Committee’s initial review focussed specifically on Tier 2 visa salary thresholds. Our submission urged the to Committee to ensure that any threshold changes were proportionate to the average salaries paid within biomedical research, particularly recognising the difference between clinical and non-clinical researchers. We stressed that any additional barriers to international appointments risked isolating the UK from the global talent pool, creating an adverse impact on our world-leading research institutions.
We have subsequently engaged with the Committee’s broader review, and made a joint submission with our sister Academies which emphasised the value of non-EU researchers to the UK, and the importance of maintaining the ability of UK institutions to recruit them. These messages were reinforced by a joint sector-wide statement to the Committee, signed by a broad range of Academies, Universities and research organisations, which highlighted the value of drawing on the international labour market alongside existing domestic capacity building, and the value of technical experts.
Following the publication of the Committee's report in January 2016, the Presidents of the National Academies jointly wrote to Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, and James Brokenshire, Minister for Immigration, to ask that the research sector be given special consideration if the government implements two of the MAC's recommendations in particular. These recommendations relate to the minimum salary thresholds for the Tier 2 route and the proposed introduction of an Immigration Skills Charge.
In 2019, the Presidents of the UK national Academies wrote to the Home Secretary outlining why a £30,000 salary threshold would be bad for research and innovation.