The Wellcome Sanger Institute calls for more clarity from the Government on the proposed changes to immigration rules  

Illustration of applying for a visa

Sanger’s Head of Policy, Sarion Bowers, urges the UK Government to urgently clarify its plan to cut net migration (announced on 4 December 2023), and to support the immigration of talented scientists from around the world to ensure the UK remains a global scientific leader.

15 December 2023

The Wellcome Sanger Institute is deeply concerned by the way in which the UK Government has communicated its proposals to increase salary requirements for skilled worker and family visas, from £26,200 to £38,700 per year. We are particularly frustrated by the lack of detail provided to date and the conflicting comments being made on behalf of the Prime Minister and Home Secretary regarding visa renewals.

We fear that irreparable harm is being done to the UK’s reputation amongst international researchers and this will have a direct impact on the Government’s stated aim to recruit the brightest and best to help maintain the UK’s status as a science super-power.

The Sanger Institute works hard to attract and retain specialist staff who are essential to the delivery of our transformative science. We currently employ talented staff from 73 countries. They work under a wide range of different visa categories, including as skilled workers and as family of British nationals, as well as under Global Talent and Graduate visas.

The tone of the Home Secretary’s announcement to Parliament on 4 December 2023, and the failure to set out what transitional arrangements, if any, will be implemented for those already in the UK in these visa categories is causing distress among our staff. The increasing uncertainty and unhelpful rhetoric around immigration is fuelling concerns for our staff that they and their families will no longer be able to remain in the UK. We have seen an increase in requests for advice and support on immigration, even from those on permanent contracts earning over the £38,700 threshold, and have even been asked if such staff should be making arrangements to leave the UK.

Individuals, who have moved to the UK with their families and complied at all times with UK Immigration Rules, have a reasonable expectation that their path to settlement in the UK will not be ripped from under their feet. We urge the Government to provide formal reassurance that those already here will be able to stay, without needing to go through complex visa renewal applications that rely on “exceptional circumstances” or human rights arguments.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute is committed to training and developing local talent. For example, we offer apprenticeships, a fully funded PhD programme, dedicated Postdoctoral Excellence Fellowships for people from Black heritage backgrounds and the Janet Thornton Postdoctoral Fellowship for those returning to science. Our staff also support numerous training and work experience opportunities in conjunction with colleagues at Wellcome Connecting Science. However, it remains the case that to deliver our cutting-edge research we must recruit internationally.

We offer a competitive salary package to our employees. However, the new proposals put our ability to recruit international workers in jeopardy as salary thresholds are out of line with the salaries offered by universities and not-for-profit research organisations. These organisations are the bedrock of the UK life-science sector. Whilst many of our staff qualify for Global Talent visas, this is not always the case and given the range of different roles at Sanger, we also rely on the Skilled Worker visa route. We need to understand now whether current concessions for recent graduates, those with a STEM PhD relevant to the job and for Shortage Occupations, will continue to apply, and if so on what basis.

The Government’s response to the Independent Review of the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape, published on 22 November 2023, stated that the Government was committed to ensuring the UK’s wider immigration system supports economic growth, and that the Government remained committed to attracting and retaining top researchers, scientists and innovators. It is frustrating to see, less than two weeks later, proposals that threaten that commitment.

We call on the UK Government to reconsider these latest damaging proposals and support the immigration of talented scientists from around the world to ensure the UK remains a global scientific leader.

Related Sanger Institute Statements on Policy: