The UK government has unveiled plans to work with the country's scientific community to develop a fast-track visa route for the "brightest and best", in a bid to attract the world's top scientists to Britain after Brexit to bolster its standing as a hub for research and innovation.
Downing Street said on Thursday that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instructed the UK Home Office and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to start work on the new fast-track route, designed to attract elite researchers and specialists in science, engineering and technology.
The new visa offering is expected to be launched later this year, with a view to promote the UK as an attractive destination to live and conduct new research.
"Britain has a proud history of innovation, with home-grown inventions spanning from the humble bicycle to the lightbulb," said Johnson.
"We were home to the world's first national DNA database, we discovered graphene, and our cutting-edge scientists should be proud to follow in the footsteps of titans like Ada Lovelace and Nobel Laureates Francis Crick and Peter Higgs.
"But to ensure we continue to lead the way in the advancement of knowledge, we have to not only support the talent that we already have here, but also ensure our immigration system attracts the very best minds from around the world," he noted.
UK home secretary Priti Patel, the senior-most Indian-origin minister in the UK Cabinet who is charged with overseeing the new route, said the new plans will help boost Britain's standing as a science and innovation hub.
"We want Britain to be the most prosperous economy in Europe with an immigration system that attracts the brightest and best global talent," she said.
"Our new fast-track visa route will be a key part of this encouraging the world's top scientists and researchers to our shores.
These gifted minds will bolster the UK's standing as a hub for science and innovation as we look to introduce a points-based immigration system centred on what people will contribute to our great country," Patel said.
Some of the options to be explored will include abolishing the cap on numbers under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visas, ensuring dependents have full access to the local labour market and jobs, as well as an accelerated path to settlement.
Nobel Prize winning biologist Sir Venkatraman (Venki) Ramakrishnan, the India-born scientist who as President of the UK's Royal Society has made a series of interventions on the issue of easier flow of scientists and researchers, welcomed the plan for a new visa route.
"The Royal Society has long called for reform of the UK's costly and complex visa system which acts as a barrier to attracting the best international talent. We welcome the government's objective of supporting science by facilitating immigration of researchers at all levels, and look forward to discussing the details of a new immigration system," he said.
"The Society believes we should trust our universities and research institutes to make the right choices when identifying talented individuals the UK needs to guarantee our position among the leading scientific nations," he said.
However, he reiterated his warning against a no-deal Brexit, which he believes would be "the worst option for science".
"The fact remains, half of international academic talent in UK universities comes from the European Union and the EU is our single largest research collaborator.
"Alongside immigration reform, therefore, maintaining close working ties with researchers in Europe and access to EU research funding, are essential," he said.
Addressing some of the Brexit related concerns of the scientific community, the government said that in addition to immigration changes, it would also provide additional funding for scientists and researchers who have sought EU funding before Britain leaves the 28-nation economic bloc.
As the October 31 Brexit deadline nears, Prime Minister Johnson has sought to ease no-deal worries and in relation to science Downing Street flagged an automatic review process by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) of any EU-linked projects caught up in the process of exiting the union.
"I want the UK to continue to be a global science superpower, and when we leave the EU we will support science and research and ensure that, far from losing out, the scientific community has a huge opportunity to develop and export our innovation around the world," said Johnson, who took charge as Prime Minister with a "do or die" promise to exit the EU by October 31.
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