PhD-level jobs will be exempt from caps on the number of skilled worker visas granted each month, the chancellor has announced, delivering a boost for universities.
Philip Hammond’s spring statement delivered further good news for universities and foreign researchers by stating that some research periods spent outside the UK will no longer count against such researchers when applying for settlement - an issue whose effects on academics have been highlighted by Times Higher Education.
There is a cap on the number of visas that can be granted under the Tier 2 skilled worker section of the visa system, with a monthly allocation of places.
“From Autumn 2019, PhD-level occupations will be exempt from the Tier 2 (General) cap, and at the same time the government will update the immigration rules on 180-day absences so that researchers conducting fieldwork overseas are not penalised if they apply to settle in the UK,” said the chancellor in a written ministerial statement accompanying his speech.
The government’s immigration White Paper has proposed that the cap on skilled worker visa be scrapped in the post-Brexit immigration regime, but universities – as key recruiters of non-EU workers with PhDs – will welcome earlier action. However, the move does not address universities' concerns over the minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visas - the future of which remains unclear post-Brexit.
Mr Hammond also addressed the government’s review of post-18 education, whose panel is led by Philip Augar. “The Augar review will be published shortly,” the chancellor said. The review “will represent an important contribution to our overall plan for post-18 education. The government will respond later in the year,” he added.
The review – which will require extra direct public spending if a cut in tuition fees with replacement funding is recommended – is seen as closely tied to the Treasury’s spending review.
Mr Hammond said that if a Brexit deal is agreed in the coming weeks, the spending review will begin before the summer recess with announcements in the autumn budget.
Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said that the changes to visa regulations was “great news for researchers across the country”. BUt she expressed concern that the Spring Statement “did not make substantial progress towards the Government's pledge to increase R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027”.
Mr Hammond’s written statement also referred to the forthcoming international education strategy, saying that it would “be launched by the Departments for Education and for International Trade” and help “to strengthen our position at the forefront of global education”.
He also referred to the previously trailed international research and innovation strategy, billing this as “setting out the government’s ambition to ensure the UK retains its place as a global partner of choice for science and innovation collaboration. As a first step in implementing this, the government has launched an independent review to assess and make recommendations on our future frameworks for international collaboration.”