May 17, 2021

Barriers to immigration threaten to stop the arrival of researchers in the United Kingdom | Science

Barriers to immigration threaten to stop the arrival of researchers in the United Kingdom | Science


The United Kingdom, one of the European countries that more Spanish talent has absorbed in recent years, studies imposing barriers to immigration after the Brexit that can close the door to young researchers, laboratory technicians and other scientific profiles.

The British government is finalizing a proposal of law with the new rules of immigration that will be applied to the foreigners that arrive at the country once it has completely broken its ties with the European Union. Although the details of that legislation, which is expected to be ready before the end of the year, are not yet known, the government has already advanced that EU citizens can stop receiving favorable treatment with respect to other foreigners. Among the possible measures mentioned by the Minister of the Interior, Sajid Javid, is the need to accredit a minimum wage to receive a qualified work permit.

This restriction can be insurmountable for some profiles, such as recently graduated researchers and laboratory technicians, as the Spanish Society of Scientists in the United Kingdom has warned (Ceru), which represents almost 700 of the nearly 5,000 Spanish researchers in this country.

Currently, most scientists, engineers and other highly qualified professionals from countries outside the EU must show a salary of more than 30,000 pounds per year or about 33,800 euros, and wait for months until they get one of the most coveted visas. for skilled workers.

"We are concerned that these proposals do not take into account many aspects of how research works. They try to equate salary with qualification and it's not always such a direct relationship, "says Javier Escudero, an engineer at the University of Edinburgh and president of CERU.


Laura Martínez, postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Photonics at the University of Manchester.enlarge photo
Laura Martínez, postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Photonics at the University of Manchester.

"Many call managers and research funds, laboratory technicians and postdocs are workers who have doctoral theses, that is, the highest level of qualification possible, but do not have entry salaries greater than 30,000 pounds," he says.

Although it is not known what would be the minimum applied to EU citizens, any possible obstacle concerns the British universities themselves, which employ thousands of postgraduate researchers and community technicians with lower salaries.

"The ability to hire international staff with a variety of skills and with minimal barriers is vital to the success of our universities," says Alistair Jarvis, executive director of the University Rectors Association UK. "We hope that the British government will develop as soon as possible an immigration system that encourages international university talent to choose the United Kingdom. If not, we risk them going to other countries. "

Laura Martínez, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Photonics at the University of Manchester, arrived in the United Kingdom in 2015 with a postgraduate contract to work at the University of Oxford for three years. "Many people after a PhD are opting for technical positions, project manager or scientific disseminator, for which the salary is a little under 30,000 pounds and for which the introduction of this minimum would be a problem."

Researchers like Martinez, whose partner is looking for work as a laboratory technician, may feel more inclined to choose another country like Germany, instead of the United Kingdom. "In order to do a doctorate you may come to yourself alone, but to do a graduate degree, when you are older, it is more frequent to come with couples or even families," he says.

The average salary of administrative staff in the British research councils that fund R & D is around 28,000 pounds, says Rocío Gaudioso, a biotechnology graduate from the University of León, who works as a strategy technician at BBSRC, the public agency that finances research in the biological sciences. "There are people who could not come," he says.

From Ceru, Escudero also warns of possible delays in the incorporation of community researchers into R & D projects in the United Kingdom if work visas are needed. "Including European citizens in the same immigration system as non-EU citizens is an additional burden of work for the government, and we wonder if they will have the resources to process requests in a diligent and expeditious manner. There may be delays in the incorporation of personnel, "he warns.

For the moment, the British government has promised that European citizens who are in the country before the end of the transition phase of Brexit-predictably by December 2020-will maintain their right to work and access public services.

For this, they must register in an application of the Ministry of the Interior still in the testing phase and whose development accumulates months of delay. The second phase of the pilot project, which was opened on November 1 and is expected to end on December 21, allows only European citizens hired by British universities and the public health system, or who have a disability, to register exclusively. .

The rectors have received that decision with relief. "There are almost 50,000 European citizens working in British universities and their contribution is vital for our campuses and communities," says Jarvis.

According to a spokesman for the British government, the United Kingdom values ​​the contribution of international researchers and this "will not change after Brexit".

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