British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced an unlimited immigration program just days after signing Blighty's agreement to withdraw from Europe.
The new “Global Talent” program comprises a fast-tracked visa aimed specifically at scientists. Johnson hopes the scheme will help the UK become a “superpower” when it comes to scientific discovery and knowledge. The goal is to “attract the world’s top scientists, researchers and mathematicians,” according to a press release. The program will start on February 20.
“The UK has a proud history of scientific discovery, but to lead the field and face the challenges of the future we need to continue to invest in talent and cutting edge research,” Johnson gushed.
“That is why 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.”
The program will replace today's Tier 1 visa program aimed at people with “exceptional talent,” but with some changes. For one, the cap of 2,000 annual places will be removed, leaving it theoretically open to an unlimited number of people.
Applicants will still need to gain a formal recommendation from named institutions, though the new program foresees most of the applicants coming through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) quango, established in 2018.
The government stressed the program will be focused on scientific and research fields, though today's system allows for applicants from a wide range of other fields, including medicine, the arts, engineering, and culture. It’s not terribly clear if the new program will accept folks in those fields.
The government highlighted global research projects based in the UK, and backed by the likes of the European Space Agency and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, as the sort of efforts that will benefit from the new program. It also mentioned partnerships with organizations including the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Research Council, and Human Frontier Science.
The visa program is not reliant on someone holding an offer an employment, and is not tied to a specific job, unlike similar programs in the United States and Europe.
Home Secretary Priti Patel argued that: “To keep the UK at the forefront of innovation, we are taking decisive action to maximise the number of individuals using the Global Talent route including world-class scientists and top researchers who can benefit from fast-tracked entry into the UK.”
At the same time as it announced the reformed and expanded visa program, the government also announced a £300m ($392m) five-year program for funding research into advanced mathematics.
“This funding will make sure the UK remains at the cutting edge of maths research, underpinning real-world technological developments, from smoother traffic flow, crime prevention, safer air travel, and smarter phone technology to the use of artificial intelligence and creating greener energy systems,” a press release noted.
The government also said it will launch a “major review” of how research systems currently work in the UK, promising to tackle “unnecessary paperwork, arduous funding applications and research selection processes” by consulting with “world-leading scientists, researchers, academics and industry figures on what more can be done.”
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Various other government-buzzword programs were also referenced including “an ambitious Place Strategy for UK research and development” and “catapult centres [that] can strengthen research and development capacity in local areas.”
At the center of all of this will be UKRI, whose chief exec Mark Walport said the goal was “to create a stronger research and innovation environment that is focused on supporting talented people and realising the full potential of their work.”
The UK is facing an enormous change to its immigration policies as it leaves the European Union at the end of this week. After Brexit, EU citizens will need to, typically speaking, apply for the right to reside in the UK if they wish to live and work there. There are just under three million EU citizens living in the UK with just over two million of them in full-time employment.
The UK has a total population of 63 million, and there are concerns that if there is an outflow of EU citizens to Europe, the UK will face shortages in some job markets.
While the idea of only allowing highly qualified and exceptionally talented people into Blighty sounds appealing, in reality those that are eligible under the program are likely to be able to choose where in the world they wish to live – and their decision will be based on more factors than a country’s self-confident bluster. ®
PS: You can get an idea of Britain's possible future points-based immigration system and salary requirements here.