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UK immigration policy is affecting scientific research, experts claim

25 October 2010
Appeared in BioNews 581

One of Britain's leading research institutes has warned that it will struggle to recruit top scientists due to new visa restrictions. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has remained at the forefront of genomics research, following their role in sequencing a third of the human genome.

Now however, scientists at the Sanger have spoken out against the recent immigration cap imposed by the coalition government, saying that this will prevent them recruiting the most talented researchers from overseas.

The new controls, introduced in July, will limit the number of visas granted to workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to 24,100 until April, after which a permanent cap will come into place.

The Institute, located in Hinxton near Cambridge, employs 38 faculty members, 140 staff researchers and 79 post-doctoral fellows. Around one in four of its senior scientists and post-doctoral fellows is a non-EEA immigrant. Of the 19 scientists employed under the broadest type of work permit, only four would qualify under the new system.

Director of the Institute Professor Mike Stratton told The Times: 'It is outrageous that these changes have been introduced. Sanger competes at the highest international level, in one of the most competitive areas of science. We need to recruit the best people from all over the world. The restrictions implicit in these rules will hinder Sanger's ability to produce science at the highest level'.

The new points system means that 'Tier one' visas - given to skilled migrants without a specific job offer - are now based primarily on previous earnings. A candidate must have been paid at least £25,000 annually in their previous position to qualify for entry. 'Tier two' visas - issued when a position cannot be filled with a qualified EEA worker - are now subject to a limited quota.

The Institute is now also required to advertise posts through the local Jobcentre and, since July, 95 jobs have been advertised, including a group leader in Zebra fish genomics, yet no application has been received via this route.

The problems at the Sanger Institute echo the complaints of eight British Nobel laureates, who wrote to the Times to complain that the new changes, would lead to a new 'brain-drain' of British scientific talent.

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