Reality bites: UK announces no-limit Global Talent visa just as it leaves the EU

File this under cosmic irony: Boris Johnson’s government just announced a Global Talent visa to attract STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – talent to come to the United Kingdom post-Brexit “with no limit on how many people can be accepted,” according to the Guardian.

Dispatches is dedicated to the global mobility of talent because in the 21st century, no country – no tech company, no economy – can compete without access to highly skilled internationals. So when Brexit happened, we wondered how the UK was going to go it alone with native talent, the leitmotif intertwined in the extreme nationalism that fed the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Turns out it’s not … someone at No. 10 woke up and smelled the coffee.

Interesting factoid: Researchers from the EU account for about half of the total UK scientific workforce of 211,000, according to the BBC. Didn’t see that in any of the Leave literature.

Boris’s new fast-track visa, which goes into effect 20 February, is a replacement for the “exceptional talent” visa. The new Global Talent visa, like its predecessor, requires applicant bona fides be certified by the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy, Tech Nation or Arts Council England, according to the Guardian. The old visa was capped at 2,000 people per year.

A new 300 million pound fund for research in advanced mathematics is also in the works. That sounds like a lot of money but isn’t. In aggregate, the Top 20 research universities in the United States including Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan invest about $30 billion with a “b” annually in R&D.

Still, tech companies and universities had pushed for some action to stop the brain drain that was built into Brexit. Critics of the new policy say allowing in 2,000 top talents does little to assure competitiveness because companies and universities will require thousands of skilled people at all levels.

So look for a more comprehensive talent visa to replace this one.

Which is a global trend:

• France, Germany and the Netherlands to duke it out for talent over the next decade as the UK’s influence recedes. France just fired the opening salvo. Pressured by the tech sector, President Macron has announced France will extend its fast-track tech visa process for highly skilled internationals to multinational corporations with operations in France, not just to French companies.

• At a time when President Trump is increasingly limiting talent visas, Canada introduced the Global Talent Stream in 2017. GTS cuts to two weeks the application process for IT and STEM applicants, a process that had taken almost one year.

Since its introduction, more than 40,000 people have moved to Canada under Global Talent Stream.

• The United Arab Emirates has introduced a new 5-year, multi-visit “tourist visa” that’s really a job-shopping visa for highly skilled internationals to use to check out opportunities. The new visa replaces tourist visas that were valid for no more than 90 days.

• In late 2019, notoriously anti-immigrant Australia formalized what had been a test into the Global Talent – Employer-Sponsored Program.

The GTESP allows employers to sponsor overseas workers for highly-skilled niche positions that can’t be filled by Australian workers or through the Temporary Skill Shortage visa.

See more here in Dispatches’ visa archive.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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