Overseas researchers thrown Home Office lifeline

January 1, 2009

The Government is to amend entry options in its new visa system that could have prevented thousands of overseas researchers entering the UK.

The problem, reported by Times Higher Education, arose after the so-called sponsored researcher visa was abolished in late November.

The new points-based immigration system that replaced it left thousands of scholars who come to the UK to take part in research - but whose salaries continue to be paid by their overseas institutions - without a clear entry route. Universities UK warned that 5,000 researchers could be hit by the changes.

Under amendments now agreed by the Home Office, the "tier 5" entry option has been extended to cover sponsored researchers. Tier 5 allows researchers on Government-authorised exchange programmes to enter the UK as temporary workers.

It will now also allow universities licensed as sponsors of international students to act, in addition, as sponsors of researchers. Universities simply apply to amend their licences.

"Hopefully any difficulties universities are experiencing in the recruitment of researchers will be short-lived and the UK's reputation as a welcoming destination for international partners will be restored," said Baroness Warwick, the chief executive of UUK.

David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, said he was "pleased" that a solution had been found, adding that the move showed that the Government was listening to the education sector.

"I believe that we are striking the right balance between securing our borders and ensuring that the UK remains an attractive destination for academic researchers," he said.

He added that sponsored researchers made a "significant contribution" to UK higher education, enhancing research outputs, helping collaborative links and opening up reciprocal opportunities.

UUK called for guidance for universities on the new arrangements to be issued as soon as possible.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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