stem visa

‘Fast Track’ Visa for STEM Migrants and the Myth of the Low-Skilled Worker

The UK Government plans to implement a “global talent visa” as of late February, hoping that it will act as an enticement for STEM (scientists, researchers and mathematicians) to migrate to Britain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that a £300 million package will be available for those conducting research in advanced mathematics and funding for maths research projects and PhD’s will be increased.

The visa is to replace the current Tier One “Exceptional Talent” visa. Experts will be able to enter the UK without a job in place, on this visa, and will be privy to an accelerated path to citizenship. Currently, no such benefits are available to so-called ‘lower-skilled’ migrants in fields such as health and social care, despite the vitality of their work.

STEM VISA
Visa rules are set to be relaxed for STEM migrants this year. [Image: Hush Naidoo/Unsplash].

Yet this ‘Fast Track’ visa appears nothing more than a marketing campaign: the high criteria and excessive scrutiny of Tier 1 applicants means the existing cap in place has never been reached. According to immigration law experts at Free Movement, removing the cap to make way for scientists ‘has little practical implication’.

Nevertheless, Johnson said the new visa will demonstrate that the UK is open for “the most talented minds in the world”.

What this message really sends is that the UK will always fall back on its favourite prejudice: class.

But low-skilled roles, as they are seen by government, make up many jobs within the NHS, care, hospitality and agriculture.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the upcoming changes – including a remodelled points-based system – aims to attract migrants with “the right kind of skills for our labour market, the right kind of skills that we need in our country – promoting the brightest and the best.”

Scientists are no doubt confused considering the number of scientists and researchers the Conservative Government have betrayed in recent times. Cambridge research fellow Dr. Asiya Islam found her application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK rejected at the end of 2019,  despite the fact her research requires her to spend time abroad.

What this message really sends is that the UK will always fall back on its favourite prejudice: class. Professions and jobs of working-class people are perceived as lesser. Of course, science and mathematics are vital areas of research and work and the UK is experiencing a skill shortage in these areas.  However, sending a message to the world that jobs often filled by those of working class backgrounds – both migrant and UK citizens – is damaging.

It is an insult to use the term ‘low skilled’ for jobs that every single person in this country, including the scientists and mathematicians, would be lost without.  

Simon Jenkins’ argument that science and maths dominance has a “draconian” element to it, with vital fields of research such as the humanities or arts dismissed as irrelevant or useless, has been seen in the years of Conservative rhetoric.

The ‘new’ route has come with an array of immigration changes, including a fast-track ‘NHS Visa’ for healthcare workers. [Image: Hal Gatewood/Unsplash].

Senior Conservative MP Michael Gove once claimed the British public had “had enough” of experts, which begs the question, what is the truth? Does Britain need scientists, surely experts of their fields, or not? Perhaps the answer is if the experts suit the Conservative’s agenda then yes, they are needed. Experts challenging the status quo, as social scientists so often do, are unwelcome in Johnson’s Britain.

The Government would do well to remember that not only do EU migrants contribute significantly to UK public finances,  many make up for skill shortages in the labour market in ‘low skilled’ sectors such as care. The working class have always been the backbone of the UK, both working class citizens and migrants. It is an insult to use the term ‘low skilled’ for jobs that every single person in this country, including the scientists and mathematicians, would be lost without.  

[Header image by Hal Gatewood].

Written by
Xan Youles
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