Connect with us


Top scientists turning down UK jobs over ‘tax on talent’, says Wellcome boss



Top scientists turning down UK jobs over ‘tax on talent’, says Wellcome boss

Top international researchers cannot afford to take jobs in the UK because of a “tax on talent” that makes it impossible for them to afford the upfront costs, the head of the Wellcome Trust has warned.

Dr John-Arne Røttingen, who has led the biomedical research charity since January, said some of the best researchers offered posts in the UK would have to turn them down because they faced having to pay “tens of thousands” in visa fees and surcharges.

It is more expensive for researchers to move to the UK than to other leading scientific nations such as the US, Japan, Australia and Germany, a situation Røttingen described as “deeply unhelpful” for the UK’s hopes of reinvigorating the economy, improving the NHS and managing the transition to clean energy.

“Rather than rolling out the red carpet for the most innovative scientists and researchers, the UK has put up barriers,” Røttingen told the Guardian. “For centuries the UK has had a huge strategic strength in science and innovation, but it is now sitting back and letting itself be outcompeted.”

He said the next government must “urgently lower the upfront costs” for talented researchers, and argued that the foregone visa fees would quickly be offset by the “huge benefits” in having the finest minds on hand to drive science and technology and grow the economy.

Recent analysis for the Royal Society found that the largest upfront cost for researchers taking a post in Britain is the immigration health surcharge, which increased 66% in February to £1,035 a year. A researcher coming to the UK for five years would need to pay for the full period upfront before a visa was issued.

The fees apply even for those coming on a global talent visa, which is designed to attract “leaders or potential leaders”, who will have a job offer and would pay taxes like anyone else working in the UK.

The fees multiply for researchers planning to bring their families to Britain. A researcher granted a five-year global talent visa and who has a partner and two children would be liable to pay £20,974 upfront, with no option to spread the payments. In total, upfront UK visa costs are 17 times higher than the international average and more than those for any other major scientific nation analysed.

“While the UK visa costs are rising, other countries are making themselves increasingly attractive by lowering theirs,” Røttingen said. In 2019, it was 12 times more expensive to come to the UK under the global talent visa for five years than it was to go to France on an equivalent visa. This year it is 21 times more expensive.

Dr Melissa Toups, a senior lecturer in computational genomics at Bournemouth University, has decided to leave the UK because the fees are too high. “It’s hard to explain to people how ridiculously expensive the UK is if you moved post-Brexit,” she tweeted on X. To renew visas for herself and her family of four and cover the immigration health surcharge would have cost four to five months of take-home salary. “I’m a bit heartbroken about it, but we are leaving,” she wrote.

Prof Andre Geim, the University of Manchester researcher who shared the 2010 Nobel prize with Prof Konstantin Novoselov for discovering graphene, said: “This is obviously a huge burden, both financial and administrative, for everyone. The last 10 years, especially after Brexit, made things go wild beyond any reason.”

Venki Ramakrishnan, a Nobel laureate at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) and former president of the Royal Society, said the high costs of visas and surcharges were “real disincentives” for the best people who had options elsewhere. “Although places like the LMB can survive in spite of these disincentives, for us to be attractive as a whole nationally, the next government should seriously consider reducing these costs,” he said.

Prof Alison Noble, a foreign secretary of the Royal Society, said the steep rise in upfront visa costs made the UK an outlier by international standards.

“We are now 21 times more expensive than France and a breathtaking 34 times costlier than Germany, which puts the competitiveness of our research base, and the scientific, economic and technological advances it delivers, in a precarious position,” she said. “In a global market for talent, we need to remove barriers that deter world-leading researchers from coming to the UK.”

Continue Reading