Commissioned by the Wellcome Trust on behalf of the international Together Science Can campaign and conducted by RAND Europe, the survey covered 2,465 researchers from 109 countries.
The importance of international mobility was evident to most researchers, with 96% responding that it benefits research.
“It’s appalling to see what obstacles researchers from other countries face when they need to travel for research purposes”
As for the main benefits of mobility, five out of four respondents said they formed new collaborations, developed new ideas and gained new technical skills and expertise.
For two out of three, mobility helped with publishing research. Just over half said mobility allowed them to perform experiments or change direction of their research question.
Lack of funds is the major obstacle for short-term travel, and 80% of respondents said funding was the main enabler of their research experience abroad.
The sources of financial support that the respondents mentioned included funding agencies (70% of respondents), institutions (63%) and conference organisers and collaborators (45%).
While only 22% in total said they experienced visa challenges preventing research-related travel, the problem disproportionately affects certain regions more than others.
Asian researchers were more than four times and African researchers were more than three times more likely than European or North American researchers to report visa-related issues.
Among the main challenges, 70% named length of time, 68% length and complexity of application forms, 48% costs connected to the application form, 44% lack of clarity.
In open-ended responses, participants outlined their concerns that political events could impact on their international mobility, citing, for example, the current US administration and Brexit.
“It’s appalling to see what obstacles researchers from other countries face when they need to travel for research purposes. The US ‘Muslim ban’ is the most prominent example, but my colleagues from South America or other parts of Africa and Asia face similar obstacles with visa issues and discrimination at borders,” a German early career researcher working in the UK said.
Both UK researchers working in mainland Europe and European researchers working in the UK expressed their concerns that Brexit could impact on their mobility opportunities and research career.
“Being British, I despair at Brexit and am incredibly fearful that the UK seeks to isolate itself from the European community and disrupt this wonderful and productive multicultural research environment,” said a British early career researcher working in Denmark, quoted in the report.
A Danish researcher working in the UK echoed: “I question whether the UK will be a good base for a career that is inherently international.”
European researchers reported the least amount of obstacles to international mobility.
Europe has also been singled out in the survey as a particularly mobile and connected region, with almost 60% of respondents reporting travelling twice a year, compared to 30% of respondents from Africa and North America, and 25% from Asia.