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CaSE calls for immigration policies to support science and engineering

24 Sep 2015

CaSE has responded to the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the Tier 2 visa system, highlighting the need for immigration policies that support the science and engineering community.

Currently, the Home Office’s immigration policies could be putting the Government’s wider economic strategy at risk. According to figures released by the Home Office, 66 engineers have been refused a visa since May 2015 because of a monthly limit. And many more of the world’s most talented scientists and engineers could be being put off from coming to the UK to work in our world-leading research base because of the Government’s tough anti-immigration rhetoric.

The UK’s world-leading science and engineering base makes an irreplaceable contribution to our economic, social, and cultural well-being and our health. Working together across the full spectrum of disciplines, UK researchers in academia and industry address the major national and global challenges of our time – from sustainable economic development to healthy ageing, from space travel to climate change. Beyond research, scientists and engineers manufacture high-value products and build essential infrastructure. This international excellence brings financial rewards for the UK. The aerospace and pharmaceutical industries, for example, generated a trade surplus of over £5 billion and £3 billion respectively in 2013. And the higher education sector, where a large proportion of publicly-funded basic research is performed, generated over £73 billion of output and contributed 2.8% of UK GDP in 2011/12.

All these sectors rely on being able to access the global talent pool of scientists and engineers. The knowledge, skills (including language skills), and different ways of thinking that they bring to the workplace are essential assets in academia and industry. Immigrants are also needed to fill skills shortages in the short-term, but they will contribute to a longer-term up-skilling of the UK population as they pass on their skills and knowledge to students, trainees, and other workers.

The Government has put science and engineering at the heart of its long-term economic plan. But without immigration policies that support our universities and companies to recruit skilled scientists and engineers from the global talent pool, the Government’s efforts to raise productivity and rebalance and grow the economy could be scuppered.

As part of a wider project examining the role of immigration in UK science and engineering, we have been talking to organisations and individuals from across the community to find out their views and the impact of the Government’s immigration policies. We’ve found overwhelming support amongst scientists and engineers for immigration but widespread dissatisfaction with current policies and the visa system.

The biggest concern was the unwelcoming image being created by the Government’s tough anti-immigration rhetoric. But there are also many practical problems with the visa system that make it hard or sometimes impossible for scientists and engineers to get a visa. We have outlined these findings in our submission to the Migration Advisory Committee and made a number of recommendations for how the Government could improve the system.

The full findings of our immigration project will be presented in a report by the end of the year.