Post-Brexit scheme to lure Nobel winners to UK fails to attract single applicant | Immigration and asylum

A post-Brexit scheme to draw the world’s most celebrated academics and other leading figures to the UK has failed to attract a single applicant in the six months since it opened, it has been reported.

The visa route open to Nobel laureates and other prestigious global prize winners in the fields of science, engineering, humanities and medicine – among others – was described as a joke by experts after ministers admitted its failure to garner any interest.

“Chances that a single Nobel or Turing laureate would move to the UK to work are zero for the next decade or so,” the Nobel prize winner Andre Geim told New Scientist magazine, which first reported the news.

The University of Manchester academic, who was awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 2010 for his work on graphene, added: “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.”

As part of the scheme, announced in May, the winners of some of the most prestigious global prizes were offered a fast track to a global talent visa allowing them to live and work in the UK without having to fulfil other criteria.

For scientists, the programme covered Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry or medicine, and the Fyssen international prize, while for mathematics, just the Fields medal was listed. Those from computing, engineering and social science had a handful of eligible prizes, while a Brit award was also on the list.

The Home Office said at the time of the announcement that people on the global talent visa route had to apply to one of six endorsing bodies, whereas the prestigious award route would “allow applicants who hold a qualifying prize to fast-track the endorsement application and instead make a single visa application”.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, hailed it as a way of allowing “the best and brightest” to come to the UK. She said: “These important changes will give them the freedom to come and work in our world-leading arts, sciences, music, and film industries as we build back better. 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.”

But, six months later, New Scientist has reported – citing a government response to its freedom of information request – that not one person working in science, engineering, the humanities or medicine has applied.

“Frankly, having precisely zero people apply for this elitist scheme doesn’t surprise me at all,” the magazine quoted Jessica Wade, a leading scientist at Imperial College London, as saying. “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.”

The shadow science minister, Labour’s Chi Onwurah, added: “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.”

The Home Office told New Scientist the programme 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.”

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