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UK visa change needed to become R&D ‘superpower’

Visa fees of more than £15,000 for researchers to come to the UK with their family is one problems academics and researchers face when trying to progress their careers in the UK, Universities UK has highlighted in a report.

Expensive visa and IHS costs are impacting Early Career Researchers, UUK said. Photo: iStock

International staff highlight that the UK has the most expensive visa arrangements in the world

The organisation says that visa changes and tackling immigration bureaucracy could help the UK to realise its research superpower ambitions.

Among the recommendations UUK is making to the UK home office is to review visa application costs to ensure they are at least in line with international competitors.

Currently, an individual applying for a five-year visa via the Skilled Worker Route – who is bringing a partner and two children – faces costs of £15,880. UUK says it is an issue “particularly prohibitive” for mid-career researchers who may choose to take their families, and expertise, elsewhere.

Each applicant and dependent is additionally required to pay £624 per year for an immigration health surcharge.

Applicants should be able to pay health surcharges over the lifetime of their visa, rather than a one-time upfront payment, UUK suggests, while the costs of dependency visas should be reviewed.

Other changes that the UK should consider if it is to maintain its high level of world-leading research in the UK – as found in the recent Research Excellence Framework – include allowing family members on dependent visas to apply for indefinite leave to remain after three years and enabling visa application costs to be transferred when updating an applicant’s visa to a new institution.

Currently some researchers are able to apply for ILR after three years, while their dependents cannot. Visa reapplication requirements when transferring between institutions mean researchers can currently incur more fees and bureaucracy, UUK emphasised.

“Simple steps to ease the financial and bureaucratic burden for applicants could make a massive difference”

“Significant” feedback from universities and international staff highlights the UK is the most expensive visa arrangements in the world. It risks hampering the government’s aim to increase R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, UUK added. The country must attract an additional 150,000 researchers and technicians to reach those research levels.

UUK noted recent immigration reforms such as the Global Talent visa, international graduate route improvements and a refreshed GREAT campaign as welcome steps “to make the UK more attractive to international research talent”, but further policy changes are needed.

“We think they can go even further, and that doing so will contribute to making the UK one of the most exciting places in the world to pursue a research career,” Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said.

“Simple steps to ease the financial and bureaucratic burden for applicants could make a massive difference to individual decision making, and help make the UK a magnet for talent.”

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