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Our Science and Immigration Policy Work

What we’ve been doing

As part of our mission to represent our members and ensure the best deal for science whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit, the British Society for Immunology (BSI) has been busy over the past year advocating for a number of positions across the policy areas of R&D funding and immigration reform. On the R&D side this has included:

  • 2.4% GDP invested into R&D annually by 2027 across the public and private sectors with a longer-term ambition of 3% and a realistic plan set out for how this will be achieved.
  • Targeting R&D funding towards areas with skills gaps such as immunology where demand for skills is increasing.
  • The UK should seek associated membership of Horizon Europe after Brexit.
  • Any EU funding for science lost after Brexit should be replaced, like for like, pound for pound.

On the immigration reform side, this has included:

  • Our future immigration system must focus on the skills we need as a country.
  • Scrapping the cap on the number of Tier 2 visas issued to highly skilled migrants and lowering the threshold to include occupations at intermediate skill levels.
  • Removing the minimum salary threshold of £30,000 for all science related occupations.
  • Removing the international student figures from its net migration targets.
  • Extension of the post study work visa.
  • Ensuring that visa costs are competitive with comparable nations

Why we’ve been doing it

It is clear, most pointedly from a report published by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) in January 2019, that immunology needs more people coming through the career pipeline, which has created a skills gap that threatens UK immunology. As demand for immunologists increases, to keep the UK as the world leader in the G7 nations for immunology, we need to meet that demand. This reflects our increased understanding that the immune system underpins pathologies in a number of previously ‘unlinked’ organ systems such as cardiovascular, gastric, and neurological. In order to take advantage of this more holistic view, we need more immunologists, and immunology as a whole needs more funding.

The UK is behind other nations across Europe, and around the world, in terms of R&D funding. Across public and private investment, we fund R&D by about 1.69% GDP. The OECD average is 2.4% GDP, the USA invests around 3% GDP, whilst the economic miracles of the last 70 years, Israel and South Korea, invest well over 4% GDP. In order to take advantage of the intellect of the immunologists that we have in the UK, and our research facilities which are, rightfully, the envy of scientists around the globe, it is paramount that they receive funding that is more than just adequate, but is also world-leading. The current Prime Minister has announced plans to double the amount that the Government invests in R&D to £18 billion within 5 years if the Conservatives win a majority, and the Labour Party has already pledged to ensure 3% GDP R&D investment by 2030 if Jeremy Corbyn ends up in Downing Street. But we must continue to make sure that these announcements and promises do not get lost amongst the litany of other pledges that are being made between now and 12 December and that there are realistic plans for implementation when the dust settles and we enter a new year with a new government.

Of course, research is not just about the funding. It is about the talented people at careers stages within the workforce who drive the research forward. The BSI Careers Report found that 42% of immunologists working in academia in the UK were from abroad, with 26% from the EU and 16% from non-EU countries. This is a vivid illustration of how important it is for immunology to attract and retain talent from around the world if we are to have any chance of plugging the skills gap that threatens our challenging the problems of tomorrow. In the immigration reforms that will undoubtedly occur in the next Parliament, we must ensure that (1) bidirectional movement of scientific talent between the UK and the rest of the world is simple and easy; (2) the UK is an attractive destination for international scientists and immunologists.

Scrapping the cap on Tier 2 visas issued to highly skilled migrants and lowering the skills threshold to include occupations at intermediate levels is already the current Government’s intention – we must again ensure that this does not get lost during the General Election. We must go further and show the political parties that there is public appetite for ensuring that our immigration system attracts not just those with the most experience but also those with the most potential. This is why we must make a convincing case that the minimum salary threshold of £30,000 is too high for scientific occupations and is an obstacle to those near the beginning of their careers, which is often the point when people are without responsibilities and so more globally mobile.

Why we need your help

We have already had some successes, e.g. getting the current government to assert their ambition to associate to Horizon Europe post-Brexit, R&D funding pledges by both major parties, a determination to move to a skills based immigration system, but we need to maintain the momentum through the General Election and into the next government’s policy programme. Contacting your local candidates is a surefire way to make sure that these critical issues are on their radar and that they know that there are voters in their patch to whom they matter. The more BSI members that take part in this drive the better, as that means more MPs entering Parliament on 13 December that are thinking about immunology and the policies that can let it thrive.

Matthew Gibbard
Policy and Public Affairs Manager, BSI