In a rare intervention, eight British Nobel Laureates, including Russian-born Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who share this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics, have warned that the Government’s plans to put an annual cap on immigration from outside the European Union would deprive Britain of international scientific talent and “isolate” it from the “increasingly globalised world of research”.
Sir Harry Kroto, who got the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996, cited the case of Prashant Jain, an Indian material scientist from the Florida State University, who was offered a fellowship by Cambridge University. But he was refused a visa because he was not able to secure enough points under the points-based immigration system to be eligible for a work permit.
“He is a researcher who is very clearly going places. It’s an amazing loss to the country. He will probably now stay here in the U.S. when he was quite keen to work in the U.K.. It is a very good example of the problems that immigration (policy) is causing in science,” Sir Harry told The Times.
Dr. Jain (28) said he was very keen to work at Cambridge which he described as a “wonderful place” but said he now saw his future in America.
In a joint letter to The Times, the Nobel Laureates said that Britain’s reputation as a global centre of research excellence would be damaged if a rigid cap on immigration made it difficult for universities to recruit the best talent from abroad.
Pointing out that Nobel prize-winners in science such as Professor Venki Ramakrishnan had been “enriching and enhancing British science and society for decades”, they said: “They add to our store of knowledge, and inspire countless young researchers to follow in their footsteps. These benefits are jeopardised by the Government’s plan to cap migration to the U.K.. It would damage our ability to recruit the brightest young talent, as well as distinguished scientists, into our universities and industries. The U.K. must not isolate itself from the increasingly globalised world of research — British science depends on it’’, the scientists added.
They said the Government had made an exception in the case of Premier League footballers and it would be a “sad reflection of our priorities as a nation if we cannot afford the same recognition for elite scientists and engineers”.
Signatories to the letters include Sir Martin Evans (Medicine, 2007), Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov (Physics, 2010) and Sir Tim Hunt and Sir Paul Nurse (Medicine 2001).
Their intervention follows warning by leading British businesses and universities that the proposed cap, set to come into force next year, would make Britain less attractive besides affecting its relations with emerging economies such as India and China.
The issue has caused a split in the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government with the Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable publicly opposing the move.