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Britain’s got (slightly less) talent

The UK government has announced its new “strictly controlled” immigration quotas for scientists and other professionals from outside the European Union.

In total, 21,700 migrants per year will be allowed in under the skilled and highly skilled routes.

In line with previous promises, the government has excluded from this number the largest group of visas issued: that of the intra-company transfer. However it raised the salary needed to qualify for such a transfer from the current level of at least £20,000 to £40,000.

This still represents a significant clamp down versus the current numbers, and is likely to be tougher than recently recommended by the government’s own independent advisors. And only investors, entrepreneurs and “people of exceptional talent” will be allowed in without a sponsor. The last of these groups is limited to just 1,000 people per year.

“We have worked closely with businesses while designing this system, and listened to their feedback, but we have also made clear that, as the recovery continues, we need employers to look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country,” said Home Secretary Theresa May (press release).

The Home Office says the new rules will “strictly control the numbers that can come to the UK and work from outside Europe”.

A recent report from the independent Migration Advisory Committee notes that in 2009 around 50,000 visas were issued for people to enter the UK either with a sponsor as ‘tier 2’ migrants, or un-sponsored as ‘tier 1’ migrants. Of these 22,000 were intra-company transfers and of these around 50% earned £40,000 or more.

A very back of the envelope calculation shows that this could mean some 32,700 migrants entering the UK from outside the EU per year (21,700 plus 11,000 transfers). The most stringent limit in the MAC’s recommendations was a 37,400 visas per year cap.

Universities, charities and many businesses had lobbied hard in the run up to this announcement in an attempt to protect their ability to bring in top class researchers.

While many industrial researchers may fall foul of the £40k cap for intra-company transfers, a small number may be able to gain access via the 1,000 ‘exceptional talent’ spots.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of umbrella group Universities UK, said in a statement, “It is good that the government has listened to the arguments put forward by the research community about the need to ensure an appropriate route for people with exceptional talent in science and academia to enter the UK through the creation of a new route within Tier 1. However, we are concerned about the arbitrary cap on this route as talent is rather difficult to quantify on a numerical basis.”

“So far we’ve got exceptionally little detail on the ‘exceptional talent’ route,” said Imran Khan, director of advocacy group the Campaign for Science and Engineering, in a statement. “The UK needs to be attracting far more than 1000 of the world’s top scientists and engineers annually, so we hope this is just one piece of the puzzle.”


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