Written evidence submitted by AIRTO Ltd (IWS0028)





1. This document has been prepared 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.


2. It is a response prepared by AIRTO on behalf of its member companies, who operate in the innovation sector in the UK and overseas, with links to industry and academia. AIRTO members number more than 60 organisations, employing over 47,000 scientific and technical staff1. These organisations work across a wide range of industrial sectors, and are based across the UK with some clustering in London and the South East.


3. A brief description of AIRTO, together with contact details, is given at the end of this document.


AIRTO employment of non-UK nationals


4. 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.


5. 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.


6. 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.


7. 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.


8. 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.


9. 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.


10. 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.


If an early deal for science and innovation could be negotiated, what specifically should it contain in relation to immigration rules and movement of people involved in science and innovation?


11. A clearly defined, simple, quick scheme is required that is applicable to all the different categories of migrant staff, both permanent and fixed-term.


12. A simple justification should be required based on either a lack of indigenous workers or uniqueness of the applicant.


13. There should be no quotas or limitations on numbers, provided the justification case has been made.


14. A reciprocal arrangement should be made for UK workers migrating to the EU-27.


What are the specific career needs of scientists in relation to movement of people, both in terms of attracting and retaining the people the UK needs and supporting the research they do?


15. A simple, clear process that operates on a timescale that matches typical recruitment times.


16. Certainty in the right to remain for the period of appointment, or with no fixed limit for permanent staff.


17. A clear policy on the rights to social benefits (healthcare, schooling etc.), and on the migration rights for immediate family members.


18. The continued mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications between the UK and the EU-27.


19. Continued UK participation in schemes that promote researcher mobility will be hugely beneficial, but not essential.


20. There is also the need for the UK government to make clear, immediate statements on its intentions on migrant researchers and technologists, in fora accessible to current and potential EU staff. Minister Sam Gyimah’s speech on 28 May 2018 at a reception in Brussels co-hosted by the Wellcome Trust and the UK Permanent Representative in Brussels (published in the UK government website on 31st May 2018), gives a message that must be repeated loudly and clearly: “Over half of the UK’s researchers come from outside the UK. As the Prime Minister said, we will ensure that this does not change”. This should be extended to key technologists and innovators as well.

What aspects of the 'people' element need to be negotiated with the EU-27, as opposed to being simply decided on by the Government?


21. The benefits to staffing of AIRTO member companies (and other science and technology organisations) can be achieved by a unilateral declaration by the UK government.


22. The reciprocal rights for UK researchers and technologists in the EU-27 will need to be negotiated. These should remain as close to current practice as possible in order to maintain the benefits that the UK (and Europe) have gained from free movement of researchers and technologists.


23. However, even if the reciprocal rights are not achieved, the benefit to the UK of access to EU migrant researchers and technologists will be significant.


On what timescale is clarity needed relation to future immigration rules in order to support science and innovation in the UK?


24. As discussed above, the current uncertainty is already having a deleterious effect on the operation of AIRTO member companies and hence the UK economy. It is expected that this effect will continue and increase.


25. Therefore, an "as soon as possible" clarification and implementation of future immigration rules is required.


26. It is accepted that any negotiation with the EU-27 will take time and will be affected by the other negotiations in progress. However, this does not prevent the unilateral declaration by the UK government on the system, for migrant researchers and technologists coming to the UK, being made now.



June 2018




AIRTO is the Association of Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations. Its membership comprises approximately sixty of the principal organisations operating in the UK’s Innovation, Research and Technology (IRT) sector. The IRT sector has a combined turnover of £6.9Bn, employing over 57,000 scientific and technical staff (equivalent to the academic staffing of the Russell Group of universities) and, for comparison, it is significantly larger than the network of Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany both in size and its scope of activities. The sector contributes £34Bn to UK GDP. AIRTO’s members work at the interface between academia and industry, for both private and public sector clients.


Members include independent Research and Technology Organisations, Catapult Centres, Public Sector Research Establishments, National Laboratories, some university Technology Transfer Offices and some privately held innovation companies.



Declaration of Interests

AIRTO Ltd is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No 1217006. Registered office address: National Physical Laboratory, Hampton Road, Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 0LW. AIRTO is a not-for-profit organisation funded by membership subscriptions, and managed under contract by NPL Management Ltd. Please note that this submission does not necessarily represent the views of individual member organisations. The members of AIRTO currently are:


Advanced Forming Research Centre

AMRC with Boeing


Axillium Research


BHR Group

BMT Group

BRE Group


C-Tech Innovation Ltd

Campden BRI


City University London


DG Cities Ltd

Digital Catapult

FloWave TT Ltd

Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd

Future Cities Catapult

Health & Safety Laboratory
High Value Manufacturing Catapult


HR Wallingford Group Ltd

Institute for Environmental Analytics


Lucideon Ltd

Materials Processing Institute

Met Office




National Innovation Centre for Ageing

National Nuclear Laboratory

National Physical Laboratory

Northern Automotive Alliance


Nuclear AMRC


Organic Research Centre

PA Consulting

Patent Seekers


Rothamsted Ltd

Satellite Applications Catapult

SATRA Technology Centre


Smith Institute

Stockbridge Technology Centre

Thatcham Research

The European Marine Energy Centre

The Scotch Whisky Research Institute

Transport Systems Catapult




University of Greenwich

University of Surrey




The impact of the innovation, research and technology sector on the UK economy. November 2014, Oxford Economics.