July 13, 2024

Top international researchers cannot afford to take jobs in the UK because of a “tax on talent” which makes it impossible for them to afford the upfront costs, the head of the Wellcome Trust has warned.

Dr John-Arne Røttingen, who has led the biomedical research charity since January, said some of the best researchers offered jobs in the UK would have to turn them down because they would have to pay “tens of thousands” in visa fees and co-payments.

It is more expensive for researchers to move to the UK than to other leading scientific nations such as the US, Japan, Australia and Germany, a situation Røttingen describes as “profoundly unhelpful” to the UK’s hopes of reviving the economy. improving the NHS and managing the transition to clean energy.

“Rather than rolling out the red carpet for the most innovative scientists and researchers, the UK has put up barriers,” Røttingen told the Guardian. “The UK has had a great strategic strength in science and innovation for centuries, but it is now sitting back and letting itself play out.”

He said the next government must “urgently lower the upfront costs” for talented researchers, arguing that the advanced visa fees would quickly be offset by the “huge benefits” of having the best minds on hand to drive science and technology and the to grow the economy. .

Recent analysis for the Royal Society found that the biggest upfront cost for researchers taking up a post in Britain is the immigration health allowance, which rose by 66% to £1,035 a year in February. A researcher coming to the UK for five years will have to pay for the full period in advance before a visa is issued.

The fees even apply to those coming on a global talent visa, designed to attract “leaders or potential leaders”, who will have a job offer and pay tax like anyone else working in the UK.

The fees increase for researchers planning to bring their families to Britain. A researcher granted a five-year global talent visa who has a partner and two children will be liable to pay £20,974 up front, with no option to spread the payments. In total, upfront UK visa costs are 17 times higher than the international average and more than those for any other major scientific nation analysed.

“While UK visa costs are rising, other countries are making themselves increasingly attractive by lowering theirs,” said Røttingen. In 2019, it was 12 times more expensive to come to the UK for five years under the global talent visa than it was to go to France on an equivalent visa. This year it is 21 times more expensive.

Dr Melissa Toups, a senior lecturer in computational genomics at Bournemouth University, has decided to leave the UK because the fees are too high. “It’s hard to explain to people how ridiculously expensive the UK is if you’ve moved after Brexit,” she said tweeted on X. Renewing visas for herself and her family of four and covering the immigration health supplement would have cost four to five months of take-home pay. “I’m a little sad about it, but we’re leaving,” she wrote.

Prof Andre Geim, the University of Manchester researcher who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize with Prof. Konstantin Novoselov for the discovery of graphene, said: “It is obviously a big burden, both financially and administratively, for everyone. The last 10 years, especially after Brexit, things have gone wild beyond reason.”

Venki Ramakrishnan, a Nobel laureate at the Medical Research The Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) and former president of the Royal Society, said the high cost of visas and surcharges were “real disincentives” for the best people who have options elsewhere. “While places like the LMB can survive despite these disincentives, the next government should seriously consider reducing these costs,” he said.

Prof Alison Noble, a foreign secretary of the Royal Society, said the sharp rise in advance visa costs had made the UK an outlier by international standards.

“We are now 21 times more expensive than France and a staggering 34 times more expensive than Germany, putting the competitiveness of our research base, and the scientific, economic and technological advances it delivers, in a precarious position,” she said. “In a global market for talent, we need to remove barriers that prevent world-leading researchers from coming to the UK.”

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