Skilled technicians must be eligible to apply for UK jobs after Brexit

Wellcome is backing calls for the government to ensure post-Brexit immigration rules will allow the UK to continue to recruit highly trained technical staff.

Close up of a person's hands doing research on a mosquito

Every year, the UK needs to recruit at least 70,000 new technicians demand for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) technicians is particularly acute.

We are one of a number of research funders and education organisations today making a joint call to ensure that technicians from the European Economic Area (EEA) are eligible to work in the UK following Brexit.

Under existing non-EEA immigration rules, many highly qualified technicians are in roles which are not classified as skilled enough to be eligible for working visas.

If this same system was applied to EEA nationals post-Brexit, universities and research institutions across the UK could struggle to fill many technical roles with appropriately skilled staff.

Organisations who have signed the joint statement

  • Russell Group of Universities
  • Universities UK
  • Universities and Colleges Employers Association
  • Wellcome
  • Campaign for Science and Engineering
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Science Council
  • Institute of Cancer Research

Anne-Marie Coriat, Wellcome's Head of Research Careers, says: "In last month's Budget, the prime minister made some welcome announcements around changes to immigration rules to make it easier to attract international scientists and researchers.

"Today's joint call highlights the importance of ensuring that technicians, who are vital to the continued success of UK science and technology, are also eligible to work in the UK post-Brexit."

Joint statement in full

In developing a future immigration system, government has an opportunity to review how it can best support the recruitment of people with skills needed in the UK, including technical skills that underpin world-class research and teaching in universities, research institutes and industry.

Technicians are vital to the success of the UK’s world leading research. They are a highly trained part of the workforce with a diverse range of expertise, providing essential support to research and knowledge transfer. Technicians directly contribute to research outputs and their subsequent impact and improve the efficiency of laboratory operations. Many also play a key role in building the UK’s future workforce by teaching and developing the technical skills students require to pursue a future career in research.

Although most are highly qualified, their skill level, according the current non-EEA immigration system, isn’t always high enough for them to be eligible for a working visa. If the same system were applied to EEA nationals post-Brexit, universities and research institutions across the UK could struggle to fill many technical roles with appropriately skilled staff. 

Government’s commitment to technical education is important to address the skills gap in this area and meet the challenges that come with an aging workforce. Estimates suggest UK industry needs to recruit at least 70,000 new technicians every year to replace those retiring and to fill new positions and demand for STEM technicians is particularly acute. But growing the technical skills pipeline in the UK will take time and we will always need the flexibility to draw on the best technical talent from around the globe. The UK benefits significantly from tapping into new ideas, skills and innovative approaches developed overseas and this is as true in technical skills as it is in research more generally.

It is crucial that the UK’s immigration system supports recruitment from outside the UK to fill technician-level positions – which are vital to supporting research and education and for training the next generation of technical staff in the UK.