UK visa scheme targeting prize-winning scientists flops

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According to a report published by the New Scientist, not a single scientist has applied for a UK Global Talent Visa. The route, which was opened to Nobel Prize-winning scientists six months ago, has been described as a ‘joke’ by the scientific community.


The Global Talent Visa route was opened to award-winners in the fields of science, engineering, the humanities and medicine back in May, offering a fast-track route into Britain for overseas nationals wanting to work in the UK.

The number of prizes that qualify applicants for a Global Talent Visa currently stands at 70 and includes prestigious awards such as the Turing Award, the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science International Awards, and various other gongs that are awarded by professional or membership bodies in the UK or elsewhere.


Easier for academics

The Home Office claimed that the Global Talent Visa would make it ‘easier for academics’ to come and work in Britain, requiring only one application and no need to meet certain conditions that are a feature of other UK visa routes – including the skilled worker visa.

When announcing that the scheme would be opened to award-winning academics, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Winners of these awards have reached the pinnacle of their career and they have so much to offer the UK.”

“This is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from,” Patel added.

However, a freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by the New Scientist revealed that in the six months since the scheme’s launch, ‘not one award-winner working in  science, engineering, the humanities or medicine has actually applied for a visa through this route’.


Scheme is a joke

2010 Nobel Prize winner Sir Andre Geim, a Russian-born Dutch physicist working at the University of Manchester, said: “Chances that a single Nobel or Turing laureate would move to the UK to work are zero for the next decade or so. The scheme itself is a joke – it cannot be discussed seriously.”

“The government thinks if you pump up UK science with a verbal diarrhoea of optimism – it can somehow become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he added.

Meanwhile, Jessica Wade, a material scientist at Imperial College London and a diversity in science campaigner, said: “Frankly, having precisely zero people apply for this elitist scheme doesn’t surprise me at all.” 

UK scientists’ access to European funding is uncertain, we’re not very attractive to European students as they have to pay international fees, our pensions are being cut and scientific positions in the UK are both rare and precarious,” she added.

Shadow science minister, Chi Onwurah, described the scheme as a ‘gimmick’, saying: “It’s clear this is just another gimmick from a government that over-spins and under delivers. It is not surprising that the government has failed so comprehensively to attract scientists from abroad, given their lack of consistent support for scientists here.”


Just one option

A spokesperson for the Home Office tried to downplay the lack of applications, telling the New Scientist: “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,” the spokesperson added.

However, Neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop at the University of Oxford, claimed that other UK visa routes are just as fast as the Global Talent Visa scheme and described it as ‘odd’ that the Global Talent Visa was opened to scientists in the first place.

Andrew Clark of the Royal Academy of Engineering said: “Our organisation is happy with the number of applications we’ve seen across all UK immigration routes for foreign scientists. In many cases, applicants would be eligible for multiple routes. We wouldn’t want to focus on the use of any particular route over a six-month period, but rather the overall success.”


Scheme is flawed

According to the first black scientist to ever host the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures, Christopher Jackson, ‘the idea of prioritising entry to the UK for science award winners is flawed’. Jackson, a geoscientist at the University of Manchester said: “The awards associated with the Global Talent Visa route are inherently biased.”

“A UK immigration system based on them will only replicate science’s lack of diversity.” 

In a scathing attack on the awards, Jackson said: “How we measure excellence is very nebulous. These awards favour certain people – those who are white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered – and reward them based on their privilege.”

Records show that of the 600 Nobel prize winners since 1901, only 23 are women. Meanwhile, no award has ever been given to a black laureate in a science subject.

Jackson said: “Studies show that most scientific award winners are white men of European descent and often working at American universities.”

The New Scientist report states that a similar pattern is seen across other awards that make scientists eligible for the UK Global Talent Visa route. According to the report, of the five who have won the Institute of Physics’ Isaac Newton Medal and Prize since 2015, none have been women. 

Meanwhile, only one woman has ever won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Prince Philip Medal since 2014. can help with Sponsor Licences

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