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Prime minister to launch fast-tracked visas for skilled workers

Prime minister Boris Johnson has urged government departments to work on a new fast-tracked visa for those skilled in sciences, and may scrap other visa caps to attract top talent

Government departments have been urged by prime minister Boris Johnson to work with the scientific community to develop a new type of fast-tracked visa route for skilled workers.

The aim of the new visa routes, which will launch later this year, is to encourage skilled workers from overseas to consider a role in the UK.

Johnson said the UK’s “proud history of innovation” can only continue by ensuring immigration rules allow talent from overseas easy access to jobs in the UK.

“The fast track immigration route will be designed to attract elite researchers and specialists in science, engineering and technology, from maths Olympiads at the very start of their careers to the winners of internationally recognised prizes and fellowships,” he said.

One of the tech industry’s main concerns following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union was focused on a lack of home-grown talent – a large number of people working in the technology industry in the UK are from overseas.

Concerns grew when it was found in 2018 that more than 3,000 eligible visas for those skilled in science, technology, engineer and maths (STEM) were refused due to visa caps.

Since, the government has been working to ensure people with specific technical skills are able to work in the UK more easily, initially choosing to exclude skilled doctors and nurses from being included in Tier 2 skilled visa caps to allow more people skilled in other disciplines spaces, and then extending the Tier 2 general salary exemption to nurses and paramedics, medical radiographers and STEM secondary school teachers.

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The Migration Advisory Committee then recommended removing the Tier 2 visa cap altogether, which a government whitepaper said may happen in the future.

As part of the most recent announcement made by Johnson, part of developing new rules surrounding the immigration of skilled workers, the government, leading institutes and universities are expected to discuss abolishing caps on Tier 1 exceptional talent visas, expanding the number of institutes and universities who are allowed to endorse possible visa candidates, and creating application criteria which will allow automatic endorsement of candidates subject to immigration checks.

Ensuring dependents have access to the labour marker, removing the need for an employment offer before arriving in the UK and allowing fast-tracked settlement are also expected to be discussed.

As per Johnson’s initial statement when he became prime minister, these moves are a nod towards a more point-based system, much like what is in place in Australia.

Earlier in 2019, Tech Nation found the number of UK technology visa applications had increased for the fifth year in a row, and many believe altering rules surrounding how skilled workers can apply for UK visas will make working in the UK seem more appealing, reducing concerns around a lack of technical talent as Brexit looms.

David Williams, executive chairman of quantum technology company Arqit, said encouraging more STEM talent from overseas is “crucial”, while Julian David, CEO of techUK, said: “This timely announcement signals the UK’s commitment to remain a global hub of excellence in science and innovation. Liberalising the visa system is a very welcome step in delivering the immigration policies that we need to ‘level-up’ Britain and unleash productivity across the UK.”

In an attempt to mitigate possible issues caused by Brexit, the government plans to provide additional funding to scientists who applied for EU research funding before the UK leaves the European Union, and will also ensure any Horizon 2020 applications will be automatically reviewed, and successful applications given funding in the wake of a no-deal Brexit.

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One of the causes of the referendum result was widespread resentment at the failure of our education and training system to nurture and harness home grown talent. The result would almost certainly have been different had large employers (including high tech) put the same effort into ensuring UK skills policy was fit for purpose that they put into getting freedom to import those educated and/or trained overseas    
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