Home Office doubles the number of fast-track science fellowship visas

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

The number of fast-track visas allowing elite scientists from abroad to undertake research at UK universities will double from 62 to more than 120, the Home Office has confirmed.

In a move widely praised by higher education bodies, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced she will immediately increase the number of eligible fellowships that can benefit from accelerated visas by 100%.

The Prime Minister has already announced that after Brexit there will be no cap on researchers from across the globe coming to the UK, as long as they are endorsed by recognised British bodies.

The likes of The Royal Society, The Royal Academy of Engineering, Tech Nation, Arts Council England and the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television are groups able to endorse people for the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route.

Ms Patel said the decision to double the number of fast-track visas for fellowships in science research, which allow academics to live in the UK for up to five years, was designed to keep the UK “at the forefront of innovation”.

The rise in numbers will come into effect next year, the Cabinet minister confirmed.

Doubling the number means at least 120 academics can be enrolled on UK fellowship schemes that have benefited from fast-tracked visas at any one time.

“The UK is already a world leader in science, with some of the most exciting and innovative research being undertaken here in this country,” said Ms Patel.

“We want to make sure the UK continues to be at the forefront of innovation, so we need an immigration system that attracts the sharpest minds from around the globe.”

Individuals who receive these select fellowships will only need to provide a letter from the relevant funding organisation, which will see them fast tracked to the Home Office visa application stage where immigration checks will be carried out, according to the Government.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said she wanted the UK to be a “global science superpower” and added that the boost to fast-tracked fellowship visas would encourage “researchers to join us in the race to solve the great challenges of the future”.

Leadsom fellowship
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The Royal Society, along with the majority of the UK’s best performing universities, welcomed the increase.

Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said: “Fellowships are a small but important part of the research workforce, so today’s announcement is a welcome first step in creating an immigration system that encourages talented researchers from all over the world to choose to work in the UK.”

The Russell Group, a body of 24 leading universities – including Oxford and Cambridge, said the announcement showed the Government was “serious about reforming the immigration system to ensure the country can attract leading international talent”.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK – a body representing 136 high education establishments, said: “This welcome announcement will help attract the brightest and best research stars to the UK at a time when our place on the world stage is changing.”

Organisations joining the expanded list of fellowships include Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Human Frontier Science, European Research Council and the European Molecular Biology Organisation.

A number of additional awards from UK Research and Innovation and its research councils will also be added.