Fleshing out the details of its controversial new immigration cap, the UK Border Agency announced today that it will give priority to scientists and engineers. This represents a partial victory for campaigners, including academics, charities, and a U.K. newspaper, which had called for abolition of the cap on skilled non-European Union workers because of concerns about the damaging effect it could have on Britain's science.
The government's original plan, announced last October, set a new annual limit on the number of skilled and highly skilled migrant visas for non-E.U. citizens—the new cap was set at 20,700 visas, down 7300 from previous years. To deal with a bottleneck in processing visas, there would also be a monthly quota of skilled migrant visas—4200 visas will be awarded in the first month, April, and then 1500 in all subsequent months. If monthly limits are reached, the applicants would be prioritized according to points that are earned for age, language skills, education, and previous earnings or career experience.
Scientists and engineers had decried the changes, noting that foreign postdoctoral researchers typically draw small salaries and would be at a disadvantage in obtaining visas. The new revisions, which have not yet passed Parliament, propose allocating more education-based points to scientists and engineers, announced Damian Green, the U.K. immigration minister. It is hoped that this change to the reform will bump up scientists ahead of other skilled workers in line to enter the United Kingdom.
Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), which has led the lobbying against the caps, said: "I'm delighted that the government and the UK Border Agency in particular have listened and responded to our concerns." According to CaSE, the new U.K. rules will mean that an applicant for a £23,000 job requiring a Ph.D. will have a better chance of getting a visa than will someone earning £74,000 but who did not have a Ph.D.-level job offer. "While we still disagree that a cap on scientists and engineers is something the government should implement, these proposals should mean that the U.K. can still bring in the necessary individuals from around the world," says Khan.