UK’s scientific standing ‘could be hit by immigration rules’

24 Jun 2015 | Posted by Carl Thomas

The UK’s position as a leading scientific nation could come under threat due to the Government’s immigration policies, according to a leading science advocacy group.

Naomi Weir, the acting director of the Campaign for Science & Engineering, said that around one in 10 of the UK’s academics come from non-European Union countries.

Writing in City AM, she said: “They are developing their research in our universities while also training the next generation of British scientists and engineers. That’s not to mention the talented foreign scientists and engineers working in companies up and down the country.

“Science is an increasingly global and interconnected endeavour – and that brings enormous benefits. But the direction UK immigration rhetoric and policy is going risks putting an artificial cap on scientific progress and economic growth.”

She used the examples of Nobel Laureates John O’Keefe and Venki Ramakrishnan, who both settled in the UK from overseas. O’Keefe discovered that humans have cells that act like a GPS system to help us know where we are, and Ramakrishnan – the next president of the Royal Society – was responsible for groundbreaking studies of how proteins are made in cells.

Ms Weir said the two men's contribution to the UK’s scientific standing was due to them choosing to settle in Britain, and that the nation’s scientific prowess is only down to its ability to attract the most talented people.

While she applauded efforts to train more UK workers in subjects facing skills shortages, Ms Weir said this would not make up for what she called the Government’s crackdown on people from overseas working and studying in the UK. She said O’Keefe has called immigration rules the biggest obstacle to recruiting the best talent.

Ms Weir added: “If immigration policy continues in the current direction, achieving the government’s aim of making the UK the best place in the world to do science could be an impossible task.”