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As a science superpower, Britain must be open to global talent

3 min read

The UK needs an immigration system that ensures we remain a world leader in science, writes Chris Green

From penicillin to MRI, UK scientific discoveries have revolutionised NHS care and treatment, benefiting patients around the world. Science is an international endeavour – with a highly mobile workforce exchanging ideas and building their skills – and the movement and collaboration of researchers across the world have delivered some of the most influential scientific discoveries. Post-Brexit, the UK needs an immigration system that keeps us at the heart of this international research community.

Half of the UK’s research outputs in 2015 were international collaborations, and 25% of academic staff in the UK are non-UK nationals. Last month the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research – which I chair – invited MPs and peers to an event to learn more about the importance of international mobility to medical research, and the need to build an immigration system that can ensure the UK’s continued success.

As the UK departs from the EU, the decisions we make will impact upon UK science and health for many years to come. The forthcoming Immigration Bill must deliver a system that further strengthens the UK’s position as a science superpower, allowing us to continue attracting global scientific talent – from PhD students and technicians to world-leading academics.

During the event, Dr Lori Passmore, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, shared her experience of establishing a research team of international PhD students and Post-doctoral researchers. Being able to build her team in this way, Dr Passmore could mix diverse research perspectives and skills from across the world. She also described her valuable collaborations with researchers in Germany, Denmark and the US – and highlighted the importance of short-stays to maintain these productive relationships. To help researchers like Dr Passmore and her lab to thrive we need a simple and swift immigration system to facilitate short- and long-term movement.

Health challenges don’t respect national borders, and together science can tackle these challenges. Dr Rachel Lowe is a researcher at the London School of Hygiene Tropical Medicine, and her work led to the first-ever dengue early warning across Brazil, just three months ahead of the 2014 World Cup. As a student, Dr Lowe studied in Spain through the EU’s Erasmus Programme, paving the way for an international research career that has included periods in both Mexico and Brazil. These experiences have established her as a multi-lingual academic, able to respond to crises such the dengue epidemic. Dr Lowe is concerned about future barriers to her ability to live and work in this globally-connected way. To attract people like Dr Lowe to work in the UK, we must build an immigration system that is fair and transparent, for researchers and their families.

The science community recognises that their work is a global endeavour, and 15 research organisations from across the globe have started the Together Science Can campaign to celebrate the power of international collaboration. I encourage you to add your voice by joining the campaign online or getting involved on social media with the hashtag #togethersciencecan.

In times of change, we mustn’t lose sight of the factors which have helped the UK improve health for people across Britain, and across the world. Science moves – and in the forthcoming Immigration Bill, we must ensure the UK moves with it. 


Chris Green is Conservative MP for Bolton West and the chair of the APPG on Medical Research

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Read the most recent article written by Chris Green MP - Securing access to a coronavirus vaccine is a matter of national security