The U.K. plans to fast-track visas for researchers to encourage “the very best minds” to continue to work in the country after Brexit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Thursday.
Johnson said he instructed the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to work with the scientific community to develop the new simplified system, which he aims to launch later this year.
The announcement comes amid calls from lawmakers and academics for a streamlined, less costly visa scheme amid concerns that Brexit could hurt the country’s ability to attract top scientists from the Continent. The House of Lords’ science committee urged the government earlier Thursday to ensure post-Brexit immigration rules don’t hinder researcher recruitment and retention.
“To ensure we continue to lead the way in the advancement of knowledge, we have to not only support the talent that we already have here, but also ensure our immigration system attracts the very best minds from around the world,” Johnson said.
The government will now look into possible changes to current immigration policies, including potentially eliminating caps on certain “exceptional talent” visas, targeted at scientists from outside the European Economic Area who are considered leaders or emerging leaders in their field.
This route, which is capped at 2,000 places per year, is currently under-used, but is expected to become more sought-after post Brexit when European researchers lose the right to move freely to the U.K.
The government will also look into the possibility of expanding the list of research institutes and universities able to endorse visa applicants, and developing criteria to endorse them automatically.
Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society scientific academy, welcomed the announcement and said universities should be trusted “to make the right choices when identifying talented individuals the U.K. needs to guarantee our position among the leading scientific nations.”