A new visa scheme could help the UK attract Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) professionals from abroad, amid a growing STEM skills shortage.

Announced by the Immigration Minister, the ‘UKRI Science, Research and Academia’ scheme will allow non-European Economic Area (EEA) researchers, scientists and academics to come to the UK for up to two years on a Tier 5 temporary worker visa.

13 approved research organisations, including the Natural History Museum and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will be able to sponsor highly skilled individuals from non-EEA countries to train and work in the UK. This could help remedy the STEM skills shortage, making the UK “a dynamic, open, globally-trading nation”.

In a statement, immigration minister Caroline Nokes, said:

“We must have an immigration system that makes sure we can attract leading international talent and benefit from their knowledge and expertise. The UK is a world leader in research and innovation and these changes will make it easier for international researchers to work and train in the UK.

“I recognise the crucial contribution science makes to the UK economy and society and I am determined that the UK will continue to welcome leading scientific and research talent from around the world.

The UK Government is also doubling the number of Exceptional Talent visas to 2,000 per year, and is introducing a start-up visa; open to those who are launching new businesses in the UK. Doctors and nurses have been removed from the Tier 2 cap which limits the number of individuals employed through the Tier 2 visa route.

This comes after it was revealed, through an FOI request sent by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, that 3,500 scientists, doctors, engineers from outside the EU had been denied visas between December 2017 and March this year despite an increasing need for STEM professionals.

The scheme could help the UK’s STEM skills shortage

The UK is currently facing a STEM skills shortage, with employers struggling to recruit enough researchers and technology experts to keep up with demand. The UK could see a ‘brain drain’ following Brexit, with a growing number of STEM professionals from the EU or EEA considering leaving.

Many have predicted that Brexit could have an impact on the UK’s ability to attract new STEM professionals too, with the 2018 SRG Salary Survey finding that 40% of people working in STEM thought that they would have to work harder to retain their staff post-Brexit.

A recent report published by the Public Accounts Committee voiced concerns that a shortage in STEM skills in the workplace could damage the economy. The report said that the government “does not currently have sufficient understanding of what specific skills businesses really need or how Brexit will affect the already difficult task of ensuring the supply of STEM skills in the workforce”.

UKRI chief executive Professor Sir Mark Walport said:

“Research and innovation is inherently international, as are the unprecedented 21st century challenges we must address.

“Global collaboration through the movement of talented people plays an essential role in meeting these challenges and this new scheme will provide further support for international researchers to work and train in the UK.”

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