Nobel Prize winner criticises 'stupid' UK immigration rules

Fri, 2013-01-04 06:06 PM

A Nobel Prize winning scientist, Sir Andrei Geim, who immigrated to the UK from Russia in the early 90s, has warned that 'stupid' UK immigration policies will hinder UK scientific research.

Sir Andrei received his Nobel Prize in 2010 for his discovery of graphene, which is made from pure carbon. Sir Andrei was working at Manchester University with a team of scientists most of whom had emigrated to the UK from Russia and China. Graphene is extremely strong and light and could have applications in many spheres from touchscreen technology to textiles. Sir Andrei has pointed out that, under the current rules, neither he nor his team would have been allowed to settle in the UK.

The reason for this is a change to the rules on permanent residence. In April 2012, the government changed the salary requirements for those who would be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK (ILR). The then immigration minister Damian Green said that only those skilled workers in the UK on Tier 2 visas who earned a minimum £31,000 per year would, as long as they met the residence requirements, be able to apply for ILR after five years. You may then be in a position to apply for UK citizenship at a later date. Those earning less than this amount would very likely be unable to stay in the UK.

'The brightest and the best' will lose out

Mr Green said, in February 2012, during a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank; 'We will end the assumption that settlement is an option for all those who come to work. Instead, we will accord it to the brightest and the best.' Sir Andrei's objection to this policy is that it is precisely the brightest and the best who will be affected.

As Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute puts it 'The thing is that British academics aren't that well paid.' Mr Worstall explains that Sir Andrei himself was on the inflation-adjusted equivalent of £27,000 when he came to the UK as a post-doctoral fellow. 'So the government wants all these top academics coming in…[but] at the same time its own salaries that it pays to top academics (and yes post-doctoral students are indeed that…) means that they cannot immigrate into this country under the requirements for immigrants to have a high salary,' he says.

Sir Andrei said that the discovery of graphene would 'probably not have happened if I had been unable to employ great non-EU PhD students and post-docs, including Novoselov (Konstantin Novoselov, a fellow Russian with whom Sir Andrei shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery of graphene).

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