PM lifts visa cap for top techies

There will no longer be an annual limit on the issuance of Tier 1 visas for leading STEM professionals, Boris Johnson has announced

Credit: PA

The prime minister has told the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to develop a “fast-track” visa route for technologists, scientists and researchers.

Johnson said he had instructed the two departments to explore options including removing the requirement for candidates to have a job offer before coming to the UK; creating a fast-track path to settlement rights; and abolishing the cap on Tier 1 “exceptional talent” visas. He said the changes would come into effect later this year.

The Home Office doubled the cap on exceptional talent visas – for so-called “global leaders or promising future leaders” in digital technology, science, arts and the creative industries – from 1,000 to 2,000 last year.

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However, Home Office figures show only 983 exceptional talent visas were issued in 2018, up from 694 the year before. A third of the total issued in 2018 were to dependents.

Other options include increasing the number of universities and research institutes that can endorse visa candidates and giving dependents “full access to the labour market”.

At the moment, dependents of Tier 1 visa or Tier 2 work visa holders can work, but with some limitations. For example, they cannot seek employment as a professional sportsperson or doctor or dentist in training.

The announcement follows repeated warnings from universities and other institutions that the UK could lose out on talent from other countries – particularly the EU – after Brexit.

Academics are particularly concerned about the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on science in the UK. Their warnings came after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said this weekend that the government was operating “on the assumption” the UK will leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sir Andre Geim said Johnson was taking scientists “for fools” by saying changing the immigration rules would attract top researchers to the UK.

“The government may try and reduce the barriers to entry for scientists, but they cannot reduce turmoil that would be caused to science in the UK by a no-deal Brexit,” Geim told The Times.


Sam Trendall

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