A visa scheme intended to encourage Nobel prize laureates and other scientific award winners to work in the UK has attracted just one successful applicant since its launch a year ago
1 June 2022
Just one person has successfully applied to a UK government visa scheme for Nobel prize laureates and other scientific award winners since its launch a year ago, New Scientist can reveal.
In May 2021, the government launched a fast-track visa route for award winners in the fields of science, engineering, the humanities and medicine who want to work in the UK. The idea was to make it easier for some academics to apply for the Global Talent visa established in 2020. The streamlined route requires only a simple application, with no need to meet conditions such as a grant or job offer from a UK organisation.
But a freedom of information request by New Scientist has revealed that in the year since the scheme’s introduction, just one person has successfully received a visa this way.
Despite being asked, the UK Home Office didn’t reveal how many people had applied for a visa through this scheme. A freedom of information request by New Scientist in November 2021 revealed that no one had applied in its first six months.
The Home Office was unable to reveal the exact nature of the prize held by the successful applicant, nor their country of origin, as this might allow them to be identified in a breach of data protection rules. Most of the eligible prizes for the science, engineering, the humanities and medicine route are scientific in nature, although the Nobel prize for literature also falls in this category.
The scheme also has fast-track routes for prizewinners outside of science, such as the Grammy award in music or the Oscars in film. The Home Office said that one other person had successfully applied for a visa through one of these routes, but again was unable to provide further details.
“I am surprised indeed, but mostly by the fact that even a single person found this special visa process helpful,” says Andre Geim at the University of Manchester, UK, who won a Nobel prize in 2010 for his work on graphene.
Richard Catlow at University College London and a former foreign secretary of the UK’s Royal Society says he is unsurprised by the finding. “People who win such awards are generally not very mobile and don’t want to uproot themselves and their families unless they’ve got a very good reason to,” he says.
“The real issue facing UK science is to be attractive to people at all career stages, especially those early in their careers,” says Catlow. “It’s a misconception that science is all about big stars – it’s about teams.”
Peter Coveney at University College London calls this “just the tip of the iceberg” in the changing landscape of academic recruiting in the UK. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit good people into positions,” he says.
“Many European researchers who are in the UK are leaving,” says Coveney, following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. European researchers don’t want to come to the UK right now, he says.
“The government isn’t serious about British science, instead it just has gimmicks like the visa route,” says shadow science minister Chi Onwurah. “The biggest barrier to attracting talented people to the UK is the government’s consistent failure to support the university sector, students and researchers as well as an increasingly hostile environment for migrants generally.”
A Home Office spokesperson told New Scientist that the prestigious prizes route makes it easier for those at the “pinnacle of their career” to come to the UK. “It is just one option under our Global Talent route, through which we have received thousands of applications since its launch in February 2020 and this continues to rise,” they said.
The spokesperson also said that due to the exclusivity of the prizes that qualify under the pathway, the Home Office didn’t expect a high volume of applications.
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