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Science and technology committee calls for free movement of skilled workers

31 July 2018

To some of us, science has an ethereal power. It creates and changes the rules rather than simply being bound by then. So it comes as no surprise that the science and technology committee has suggested free movement of scientists (and all skilled workers) to the UK. Albeit for only 180 days.

This comes as one of a succinct list of eminently sensible suggestions, as one might expect from such an organisation. The freedom to work for up to 180 days, if deemed a skilled worker, is potentially an effective solution for the grey quagmire of compliance around the business visitor visa rules. Particularly regarding the prohibition of “work” whilst allowing certain activities such as “business meetings”. Presumably, with some restrictions on repetition and number of visits this would make research and business much easier for global organisations and international collusion on projects. Rather than continuing to either criminalise short-term work or require long-winded and sometimes expensive visas, this suggestion could instead contribute to the UK being a centre for science worldwide. World leading research is best when collaborative and enabling short work visits to aid this is vital.

Further recommendations for easing the migration of research teams accompanying a research leader, reinstating the Tier 1 Post Study Work visa and extending the flexibility on absences shown to EU migrants for settled status, to those applying outside that scheme, would all be of great use to this sector. Careers in science and technology are globally transportable and often project led. These suggestions therefore, recognise the value of this workforce to Britain’s global reputation as a leader in science and technology development, by attracting the talented individuals required for this.

Finally, there is no logic in retaining caps on Tier 2 visas. The report recommends lifting the current caps for this reason. Tier 2 is for skilled workers, on high salaries that have job offers from employers deemed responsible enough for sponsor status. They are therefore raising the salary level of local workers whilst not displacing the settler labour market, having either proven that there was no one else suitable for the role, or that they are coming on a temporary basis only, to share knowledge and skills. Why then limit something that is all benefit and no harm? The system needs some improvement to ensure there is no abuse but the principles are good.

What science and technology needs now, is a little certainty and predictability in the maelstrom of change. Research grants are often allocated years in advance and if we can demonstrate a generally good system for migration by the end of this year, hopefully the UK will not miss out on too many investments as a result of the current instability.

The combination of Windrush and thousands of much needed doctors and nurses being rejected by the caps, has put migrants into a positive public spotlight for the first time in a long time. Now, the logic of science is here to make sensible recommendations to help us create a better system in the wake of Brexit. The release is timed to ensure its consideration by the MAC in their report scheduled for October. Let’s hope that it is influential.

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