AIRTO submits evidence to the Science and Technology Committee

AIRTO have submitted evidence in response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry “An immigration system that works for science and innovation“, dated 16 May 2018.

AIRTO members employ a significant number of non-UK nationals. A “straw poll” of members in July 2016 gave a typical level of non-UK employees of 20% of the workforce, with two thirds of these being from the European Economic Area (EEA). Based on these figures and the total number of AIRTO employees, we estimate that members employ approximately 7,500 EEA migrants.

AIRTO member companies recruit highly-skilled staff from the EEA. These are researchers and technologists qualified at NQF6 and above (usually graduates, Masters and Doctorates). If only skilled technical roles are considered, the percentage of non-UK employees is higher than the ~20% given above. EEA migrants are recruited as newly qualified staff, or staff with research and industry experience. In some instances, world-class experts are recruited to work in the UK.

AIRTO member companies generally employ non-UK staff as full-time permanent workers. Additionally, migrants may be involved in short-term or medium-term fixed length assignments for roles such as:

  • Students on placement
  • Researchers on fellowships
  • Researchers involved in EU collaborative projects.

AIRTO member companies involved in European science projects (such as the Joint European Torus, JET) will have much higher numbers of temporary or permanent highly-skilled staff from the EEA.

Newly qualified staff will typically stay in the UK for ~5 years, with some staying longer and progressing to more senior roles. Migrants with work experience will also typically build a longer-term career in the UK.

Post-2000, AIRTO member companies saw an increase in EEA migrants with a corresponding decrease in non-EEA migrants. Post the Brexit referendum, AIRTO member companies have reported a slightly increased level of EEA workers leaving the UK, with a more significant reduction in applications from potential EEA migrants.

AIRTO member companies are reliant on non-UK migrants, and in particular EEA migrants, to meet the required numbers of researchers and technologies needed across a range of disciplines where insufficient are available in the UK, and to provide specialist and world-class experts. Any lack of access to such migrants will adversely affect the work of the innovation sector.

The innovation sector plays a crucial role in the supporting UK industry. This role has been highlighted in the government’s Industrial Strategy and will increase to support the strategy and hence the UK’s economic growth. Although AIRTO members’ companies are active in developing indigenous researchers and technologists, there is a current and future need to augment staff both in terms of the numbers available and bringing in specific skills. Any restriction on such recruitment will adversely affect the role the innovation sector can play in supporting UK economic growth and leveraging investment in fundamental research. The UK has been a popular location for EU researchers and technologists providing such augmentation of staffing in the innovation sector, facilitated by geographic proximity, cultural similarities, the English language, predominance of UK science, ease of movement across borders and the effect of EU R&D programmes.

Read the full written evidence