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Brexit summit: 3 minutes on migration

22 Feb 2018

Catch up on Naomi Weir’s comments on the panel and more from the Science & Tech Committee’s Brexit Summit.

Leaving the European Union provides a reset point for UK immigration policy. There is an opportunity to develop a new UK immigration system that contributes to the UK being a global hub for science and engineering and reaping the economic and social benefits that brings.

The UK has benefitted from free movement of scientists and engineers across the EU and recruitment from beyond the EU. Although as we’ve seen in recent months that hasn’t always run smoothly. Now, the government must take the opportunity to create an immigration system that allows science and engineering to thrive.

CaSE calls on the Government to:

  • Rebuild confidence in the short term
  • Create a streamlined system in the long term

To Rebuild confidence in the short term the Government should amend visa rules, improve immigration messaging and provide confidence during Brexit transition. 

Take the Tier 2 cap. Businesses need a predictable immigration system. The Tier 2 cap increases uncertainty. This winter due to the cap being reached, hundreds of business-critical roles are going unfilled, damaging productivity. In the short term, roles on the Shortage Occupation List should be exempt from the Tier 2 cap and no such arbitrary cap on skilled workers should be implemented in any new system.

Some UK-based research projects require long periods overseas, for instance undertaking field work or using infrastructure based elsewhere. Rules preventing researchers wishing to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK from spending more than 180 days overseas in any 12-month period in the course of their work fails to take into account the nature of our sector.

So despite having have the expertise to contribute to UK science and wanting to build a career here, the current rules mean that some have been denied the right to settle. This could be easily resolved by amending ILR rules to permit research activity overseas

These policies drown out statements about welcoming the brightest and best post-Brexit and contribute to the damaging message that the UK is not open to scientists and engineers from across the world.

All the while, the UK public support immigration of skilled workers, and scientists and engineers in particular. Immigration messaging from Government must improve, instead promoting the UK as a place to learn, earn and contribute. Government must work across departments to promote the UK as a global research and innovation hub through trade missions, international strategy, Brexit negotiating positions and ministerial speeches.

Our members are clear that immigration rules should only change once following a Brexit transition period. Early confirmation from the UK Government that they will maintain current migration rules and rights throughout transition and until a new system can be effectively delivered would provide much needed certainty and confidence for employers and individuals.

In the long term, the government must create a streamlined system. Such a system must facilitate frictionless movement, have proportionate system rules, be founded on robust evidence and fit for the future.

For instance, to support frictionless movement globally, there should be visa-less options for visits, training and work, which could also form part of trade deals and research agreements.

One of the major issues in recent years is a lack of robust data and so we support Home Affairs Committee recommendations for annual reporting of migration flows and the economic contribution of migration to inform policy and public debate.

Finally, on the Chair’s question and to echo Norman Lamb’s comments at the beginning of the session; On timings – this is urgent. Messaging and domestic policies must be and can be unilaterally addressed straight away. On effects so far – we’re actively seeking input from our members and will come back to the Committee when we have more, but many have flagged concerning but understandable hesitance by EU nationals in applying for and taking up UK roles and others have seen drops in applications. This is urgent and must be addressed.

You can catch up on all the action from the Brexit summit on the Committee’s website – with my contribution beginning at minute 46. And the full transcript is now available.

Following the panel on people, George Freeman MP (1h27m30) gave a rousing speech on the potential possibilities for British Science post Brexit IF we can turn the UK into a science and innovation economy. He was followed by the Science Minister, Sam Gyimah MP (1h42m40s) followed by comments and questions. I took the opportunity (1h59m40s) to thank the Minister for his warm words about continuing to ‘welcome international talent to the UK’ and the ‘intention to be an open international partner’ and the ‘go to place for science from across the globe’ asking for his support within government to resolve conflict between current immigration policies and achieving that aim. Other panels then covered funding & collaboration (2h33m45s) and regulation (3h13m45).

What I didn’t say in my prepared comments, but was in my draft before I remembered 3 minutes is only 500 words…, I’ve copied below. I thought I’d share while you’re here as it is just as important if we’re to have the people we need for the future of UK science and engineering post-Brexit.

A word on attracting and developing domestic talent into research and innovation.

There is rightly a focus on domestic education and training. There are opportunities to redouble efforts here. STEM careers must be open to all, and there is action government can take around careers provision, and data collection and use to drive diversity and inclusion in STEM (see our diversity policy review out this week for more).

The newly announced post-18 education review must deliver sustainable funding for Further and Higher Education providing sufficient funding for high-cost STEM subjects and being careful to avoid creating financial disincentives for students of all backgrounds to take, and institutions to deliver, STEM courses.

And as ever, ambitions on developing UK talent will not be delivered without highly-skilled teachers in 5-19 education, higher and further education.

And we must remember developing domestic talent and attracting international talent are not mutually exclusive. For instance, STEM teachers are on the shortage occupation list, so even when thinking of education and training of domestic talent, foreign nationals make a significant contribution through sharing experience and skills as well as through formal training and teaching roles.