Science is in danger of becoming the latest casualty of the government’s immigration policy. Despite assurances otherwise, the proposed cap on economic migrants from outside the EU, announced by Theresa May in June—along with the planned cuts in public spending—will be disastrous for British scientific research.
Tightening the entry criteria through the points-based immigration system, as the last government did, does not by itself threaten the status of non-EU scientists already in jobs, although it does make it harder for new applicants to come in. But here’s the problem: in order to implement the staff cuts that will be unavoidable thanks to major funding cuts, many British universities plan to ask existing researchers to reapply for their current jobs. It is assumed that only some would be successful, leading to redundancies.
Besides being distracting and soul-destroying, for many EU scientists this process could lead to deportation—even for those ultimately successful in retaining their jobs. This is because during the period they are reapplying for their jobs they are deemed unemployed, and so also have to reobtain their visas. And now, since the skills requirement bar has been raised, a number of well-qualified and successful scientists who cleared the hurdle before will fail this time.
The UK Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE) says it has heard from non-EU researchers who, despite having leading roles in world class research teams, are worried they will lose their jobs for good. CaSE has been lobbying the government to adopt a scheme similar to some other countries, such as France and the US, which in effect allows top scientists and engineers to bypass the rules through fast track entry, which in turn encourages the best people to apply for jobs. Simply continuing with the immigration caps as they are, combined with the spending cuts, will make a toxic brew for British science, warns CaSE.
The outcome of CaSE’s lobbying will not be clear at least until the details of the cuts are announced on 20th October. We do know they are finding some receptive ears within the coalition: the Liberal Democrats campaigned against the immigration cap during the election campaign, and recently business secretary Vince Cable expressed concern that they would damage competitiveness. However it was also Cable who…