05 December 2008

Universities UK: visa changes could mean loss of thousands of researchers

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Universities UK (UUK) has raised concerns that the new system for UK immigration introduced last week has cut off the pathway for researchers and scholars to work in Britain, reports Times Higher Education.

The Home Office has been upgrading the immigration system over the past year to emulate the Australian points-based system.  The new UK system is based on five tiers, and since the tier 2 and tier 5 of the new system went live last week, universities are worried the pathway for scholars to work, study and research in Britain has become unclear.

The replaced sponsored researcher visa had 2,000 new participants every year, who would typically conduct research in Britain for two to three years, meaning that around 5,000 foreign scholars were studying in the nation at any one time.

Now, foreign academics interested in researching in the UK need to apply under tier 2 or tier 5 of the UK immigration system.  Employers, universities, and educational institutions who wish to hire foreign workers from outside the European Union (EU) need to have a valid Employer Sponsorship Licence. 

Under the tier 2 category for migration, skilled workers from outside the EU who have a job offer from licensed sponsors can apply for a UK visa as part of the points-based system.  To be able to apply, applicants must have a valid sponsorship certificate and pass the points test.  Universities can sponsor foreign researchers directly to research in the UK through this tier.

Tier 5 of the points-based system allows temporary workers from outside the EU who have a job offer from licensed sponsors to apply for a UK visa.  To be able to apply, applicants must also have a valid sponsorship certificate and pass the points test.  Foreign researchers can also apply for a UK visa under this tier through the government authorised exchange programme.

UUK is concerned the abolishment of the sponsored researcher visa would discourage foreign researchers to come to the UK, as the pathway is unclear and more difficult (tier 2 category requires applicants to have a job offer from a licenced sponsor before they can apply for a UK visa). 

"The position of sponsored researchers within the new points-based immigration system remains unclear as their previous entry route has now closed.  Universities UK is very concerned that this group of highly skilled people will now be unable to come to the UK to contribute to our research work," said a UUK spokesperson.

"We will continue our discussions with the Government to try to find an appropriate way forward to enable this type of researcher to continue to come to the UK - but the longer this situation goes on, the more damage is done to the UK's higher education system," he added.

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in UK visa and immigration services.

Article by Jessica Bird, UK Visa Bureau.

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