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AMRC Brexit blog series: The movement of people

In this second instalment of AMRC’s blog series highlighting key areas of focus for medical research charities as the UK prepares to leave the EU, we’re looking at one of the most thorny issues - changes to the movement of people.

Immigration was a key issue throughout the referendum campaign and, now that Article 50 has been triggered and we await the start of exit negotiations, it continues to dominate much of the discussions.

The situation

Currently the UK has two systems for immigration:

  • EU freedom of movement rules that allow easy movement of EU citizens across EU member states; and
  • A points-based system that manages international, non-EU immigration.

This situation is likely to change. The Prime Minister has recently made it clear that Government will prioritise ending freedom of movement in negotiations with the EU. As a result there is potential for reform of the points-based system and the development of a single system for all.

Changes to the movement of EU citizens could potentially pose a significant challenge for the UK’s thriving research and innovation base. Science is intrinsically international and collaborative; easy movement of researchers, innovators and specialist technicians across the EU has arguably given the UK a competitive advantage globally by opening up access to skills and international networks.

Funding researchers in the UK from across the EU is vital for many medical research charities. For example, around a fifth of British Heart Foundation funded principal investigators have EU member state nationality.

Our position

In order to ensure that the UK’s vibrant medical research sector can continue to grow and thrive, we are calling on Government to implement a new immigration system that allows for ease of movement for researchers and those involved in medical research, including healthcare professionals, technicians and patients. In the short-term, we are calling for urgent clarification on the status of EU nationals in the UK.

We need a simple immigration framework that attracts and retains individuals within the UK life sciences community. The system must be fair, transparent and efficient, and sufficiently flexible to allow for the UK’s changing skills needs and research priorities in the years ahead.

Ultimately, our priority is that patients should not be negatively impacted by a loss of participation of health and research professionals from EU member states.

Re-addressing the immigration system could provide the opportunity to position the UK as a global science hub, with both EU and non-EU partners, through supporting the movement of all those who contribute to the advancement of science and research.

What are we doing?

AMRC are part of a sector-wide group (including representatives from academia, industry, learned societies and government bodies) led by the Medical Research Council, which has been working to develop high-level shared principles, priorities and underpinning evidence for what a refreshed immigration system could look like.

AMRC will continue to update members on this work as and when it develops. We hope this will support our members in developing their own positions, and foster a joined-up voice across the sector, with the aim of working with government to help develop a future immigration system that supports a thriving research and innovation base in the UK.