Visa concerns ‘low on the list’ for travelling academics

Survey of 10,000 researchers suggests that despite headlines, salary and location are still bigger drivers

November 21, 2019
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Debates about the visa regimes in place for students and researchers to entice them to work in certain countries are often some of the most heated in academia.

But a new worldwide survey of some 10,000 researchers – a large proportion of whom were junior scholars looking to work abroad – suggests that the ease of obtaining a visa in different nations is not a particularly big concern.

According to the survey of people using the ResearchGate networking site, just 7 per cent of researchers – about half of whom said they were postdocs or PhD students – rank visa considerations as the most important factor in choosing where to seek work. This was opposed to 21 per cent who chose salary as the most important factor, followed by location (18 per cent).

Work benefits being offered by a university (12 per cent); how family-friendly the institution is (12 per cent), the local cost of living (9 per cent) and how international the staff and student body are (8 per cent) were all ranked higher in the survey results, which were published on 21 November.

Visa concerns also ranked second as the factor that researchers would view as the least important when deciding where to move to.

Almost 70 per cent of researchers answering the survey – which included academics from most regions of the world – said they would be open to moving abroad with a post in the US and Canada the most sought after (picked as first preference by 65 per cent).

This was closely followed by Germany, Austria and Switzerland (64 per cent) and, despite Brexit, the UK and Ireland (55 per cent) came in third as the region researchers would be most interested in moving to.

However, according to a breakdown of the results, a smaller share of researchers from the UK (54 per cent) and the US (46 per cent) said they would be open to moving abroad compared with the overall results.

Meanwhile, the survey confirmed that many academics see teaching as a poor cousin to research when looking for a new role. Almost a third (31 per cent) put this as the least important “on-the-job” factor when thinking about where to apply.

The three most popular factors chosen as the most important were the opportunity to work in a specific area of interest (chosen by 32 per cent), to contribute to cutting-edge research (12 per cent) and having real-world impact (12 per cent).

Meanwhile, the survey also asked about how satisfied researchers were with their current pay, with more than a third saying they were unhappy to some degree but most saying they were satisfied. In the UK, the share saying they were satisfied was higher than average at 74 per cent.

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