EU Commissioner Urges UK to Ease Visa Rules for Scientists, Researchers

| February 15, 2024
EU Commissioner Urges UK to Ease Visa Rules for Scientists, Researchers

The European Union (EU) plans to ask the United Kingdom (UK) government to relax visa rules for scientists.

At a meeting in London on 12 February 2024, UK science, business, and research leaders were encouraged to take advantage of Horizon Europe funding.

This is despite concerns over costs and visas for European scientists who want to work in the UK.

Iliana Ivanova, the EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation, is concerned steep visa fees may deter UK scientists from joining the Horizon program.

“We are having some difficulties with European researchers going to the UK due to some visa issues and also higher costs,” Ivanova told The Financial Times.

However, Michelle Donelan, UK’s Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, dismissed claims that the UK faces difficulties recruiting participants.

She shared that “the key message” from scientists, innovators, and businesses was whether the project aligned with their interests and helped Britain’s economy grow.

British citizens can lead EU scientific programs again

Horizon Europe is the primary research and innovation funding program of the EU. It currently has a €93 billion budget between 2021 and 2027, with almost 90 countries participating.

In 2020, the UK left the Horizon program after Brexit. However, it made a deal last year with the EU to rejoin in January 2024.

This means British institutions can lead consortiums again and be prominent figures as they did before leaving the program.

Countries in the Horizon program contribute funds, which are then distributed to individuals or organizations based on merit.

The individuals or organizations can then use the grant to explore topics like climate change, medical advancements, and artificial intelligence.

Horizon also tackles the sustainable goals of the United Nations (UN), such as poverty, food, energy, and education, among others.

It generates advanced knowledge and technology, leading to job creation, economic growth, and industrial competitiveness.

High cost of UK visa fees and strict EU visa rules considered barriers

In October 2023, the British government increased UK work and visit visa fees by 15 percent.

The government also raised family visas, settlement, and citizenship by 20 percent and student visas by 35 percent.

In February 2024, the National Health Service (NHS) immigration health surcharge is also up by 66 percent, from £624 to £1,035 a year.

The Royal Society, or the UK National Academy of Sciences, has criticized high visa fees for international researchers.

It cited “upfront visa costs up to 10 times higher than the average fees of other leading science nations.”

Campaign for Science and Engineering, an independent advocate for science and engineering in the UK, says upfront costs have increased by 57.3 percent.

Their calculations show that for researchers coming to the UK on a five-year Global Talent visa, the cost jumped from £3,743 to £5,890.

The Global Talent visa is a UK work visa for talented individuals in academia, arts and culture, and digital technology.

On the other hand, UK citizens’ work privileges differ across EU member states, with some requiring a residence permit even for paid lectures.

Several EU member states have requested the removal of the immigration health surcharge, according to officials familiar with internal discussions.

Other member states suggested having a comprehensive mobility agreement with the UK for the research and development sector.

Both proposals aim to ease the movement of scientists and promote collaboration between the EU and the UK.

Scientists and researchers urged to take advantage of Horizon

Amid the issues of visa rules, costs, and health surcharge fees, UK and EU leaders encourage scientists, researchers, and other talents to apply.

“My message to British researchers and innovative businesses is simple and clear: Apply!” Ivanova said in a statement.

She highlighted that many individuals have collaborated with European partners to advance science, academic careers, and businesses.

The EU commissioner added, “I look forward to seeing many more UK beneficiaries in the Horizon Europe program in the years to come.”

British Minister for Science Donelan joined Ivanova in promoting Horizon, adding that it has opened up a world of opportunity for researchers.

“We are determined to do all we can together with our European colleagues to seize this moment and all it could do to help our brightest minds deliver jobs, growth, and breakthroughs that will make life better for us all,” Donelan said.

UK firms that benefited from Horizon funding include Nova Innovation (£17 million for tidal energy) and The Floow (£3 million for road safety research).