There was some good news in last week's immigration announcements, as strange as it sounds. As well as keeping the overall work-related visa cap static - rather than reducing it owing to lower than expected take-up - the government unveiled important changes to the resident labour market test (RLMT).
For our sector, the RLMT is a piece of red tape that means that employers must prove they cannot find the right candidate in the "resident labour market" before they can bring in foreign talent. In practice, this means advertising the position in the local Jobcentre Plus every six months before every foreign hire - including the infamous example of the UK's leading genetics lab, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, having to advertise more than 100 posts at the local job centre and receiving absolutely no applications in reply.
Following discussions with the Campaign for Science and Engineering and many of our members, the Home Office is significantly relaxing these restrictions. The policy picture isn't perfect, but alongside the government's continuing prioritisation of PhD-level skills in the visa queue, it shows that the department is genuinely engaging with the sector after a rocky start under the coalition. We welcome and applaud this.
We are also hopeful that the sector and the Home Office can use this rapprochement to tackle the outstanding issue of student visas. The problem is clear: our universities need foreign students, and our science and engineering sectors want to employ them, too. The world's brightest students want to come and study here, polling shows that most Britons do not see them as "immigrants", and yet the UK is increasingly seen as unwelcoming compared with our foreign competitors.
The current policy confusion and mixed messages can, and should, be clarified. It is in the interests of both the government and the sector to make sure this happens.
Imran Khan, Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering