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Making the UK a global hub for science and engineering

14 Mar 2018

CaSE has today published a new policy briefing setting out what science and engineering needs from the immigration system and making a series of recommendations for government action in the short term, the Brexit negotiations and beyond. 

Commenting on the briefing, CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main said:

“Although immigration is seen as a heated issue, the situation for scientists and engineers is surprisingly uncontroversial. Politicians and public alike value them and want to see more coming to the UK. This review takes a cool look at how we can make that happen, setting immediate and long-term goals for Government that will mitigate risks and keep the UK’s competitive edge in research and innovation, making it a magnet for businesses and international talent.”

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 briefing makes a series of recommendations to government under two headings:

1. Rebuild confidence in the short term

  • Amend current visa rules;  Abolish the Tier 2 visa cap and permit research activity overseas in Indefinite Leave to Remain rules
  • Improve immigration messaging; Promote the UK as a place to learn, earn and contribute
  • Provide confidence in Brexit transition; Maintain current migration rules for EEA nationals throughout a transition period

2. Create a streamlined system in the long term

  • A future immigration system should support retention, access and movement for highly skilled people, specialist technicians, students and dependants of all those individuals.
  • Support frictionless movement of science and engineering professionals; Design visa-less options for visits, training and work, and allow trusted employers to certify for low-risk researchers
  • Ensure system rules are proportionate to risk, benefit and labour market demands; Avoid arbitrary numerical caps on skilled migrants, and provide opportunity to switch between visa routes in-country
  • Be founded on robust-evidence; Report annually on migration flows and maintain the employer skills survey to help inform immigration policy
  • Be fit for the future; Create a user friendly online interface for the migration system, and develop world-leading passport, visa and security technologies

Commenting on the recommendations, CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main said:

“The most urgent call is to amend visa rules that are currently preventing recruitment of people into engineering, tech and medical roles due to the Tier 2 visa cap. Exempting roles on the Government’s own Shortage Occupation List, two thirds of which are in STEMM, would allow recognised skills shortages to be filled and would create the headroom to allow the visa cap to operate effectively for other business roles.”

Policy Officer James Tooze has produced an accompanying CaSE comment digging into some of the key actions further.

Last week CaSE published a letter calling on the Prime Minister to exempt roles on the Government’s ​Shortage Occupation List and PhD level roles from the Tier 2 visa cap. The letter was supported by over 45 organisations from across business, universities, ​professional institutes, and research charities.

Today’s immigration briefing also brings together the current evidence base on immigration, highlighting a number of key statistics;

  • 86% of the British public want to increase or maintain levels of immigration of scientists and engineers.
  • Only 18% of Leave-voters want migration levels of scientists and engineers to decrease.
  • International students beginning their studies in 2015 will contribute over £20 billion to the UK economy while here
  • 28% of academics in the UK are non-EU nationals
  • 30% of London-based digital technology start-up founders were born overseas


For further details about the reports and analysis cited in the review see CaSE’s evidence base on immigration – a policy resource collating key sector reports, facts and figures. You can also view all our recent work on immigration.

Dr Sarah Main has also written a recent article for Research Fortnight on the need to reform the Tier 2 visa immigration system.

This immigration briefing is the second of three CaSE policy reviews to be published this spring. The first, on diversity, was published in February and the third, on Brexit, will be published at the end of March.

Read our policy review on immigration 2018

Read more