U.K. Wants More Chemical Engineers

March 24, 2011
Proposed legislation eases immigration of non-European Union technical specialists.

A much-awaited redraft of immigration legislation in the U.K. should ensure that chemical engineers continue to get preferential treatment there.

Published on February 16 by the U.K. Border Agency (UKBA), London, the re-draft applies to skilled migrants such as engineers and scientists. The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Rugby, England, broadly welcomed the proposal.


"We must show governments how critical engineers and scientists are to universities and industry. And we need to keep updating the evidence that chemical engineers are in demand, and that skilled migration is a good thing. Our industries are global, our companies are global, our challenges are global -- and to tackle them, engineers should be mobile around the world," says IChemE CEO David Brown, who has been campaigning to keep chemical engineers on the official "shortage occupations" list.

The new rules apply to so-called "Tier 2" migrants, who must have a graduate level job on offer. A cap of 20,700 per year has been set for these migrants. However, the new rules do not apply to "Tier 1" migrants, the category reserved for individuals of exceptional talent. There are only 1,000 visas available under this category in the first year, across all job categories.

Brown says he will work with colleagues from other organizations to ensure the migration of top scientists and engineers continues in sufficient numbers.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), London, the U.K.'s leading independent advocate for the science and engineering sectors, says the new immigration rules represent a victory for these sectors -- not least because the new proposals give significant rewards to applicants with science and engineering qualifications.

Understanding how important international mobility is for research and development, academics, industrialists and researchers at non-profit groups sounded the alarm over the coalition's new "migrant cap" for workers from outside the European Union (E.U.). More than one in seven academics in the U.K. higher education sector alone hail from outside the E.U. Last October, eight Nobel laureates signed a letter organized by CaSE saying the U.K. "must not isolate itself" from the global world of research.

The new proposals from the UKBA mean that an applicant who has a Ph.D or equivalent-level job offer, earning £23,000 ($37,000), would be preferred over someone earning £74,000 ($120,000) but who did not have a Ph.D-level job offer, such as sports stars and financiers.

CaSE director Imran Khan said, "Part of the reason the U.K. is world-leading in science and engineering is our ability to attract talent from around the world. The migrant cap could have left a sizeable dent in the U.K.'s scientific credentials.

"I'm delighted that the government, and the UKBA in particular, have listened and responded to our concerns. They've responded with a package that rewards people who want to come and invest their intellectual capital in this country. I think we can see this as an important victory for the science and engineering sector.

"For a long time now the visa allocation system has rewarded wealthy investors and Premier League footballers [soccer players], and discriminated against top scientists and engineers -- it's great to see this finally being addressed.

"We'll continue to work closely with the UKBA to make sure this package works for Britain, as well as making sure that other aspects of the immigration system -- including student visas -- don't prevent the recruitment of non-E.U. researchers that are so important for our research base.

"While we still disagree that a cap on scientists and eineers is something the government should implement, these proposals should mean that the U.K. can still bring in the necessary individuals from around the world."

However, while all categories of chemical engineers make the shortage occupations list, the UKBA's requirements are very stringent for those with other backgrounds. For example, design and development engineers need experience in the electricity transmission and distribution industry; production and process engineers need the same experience; and quality control engineers are particularly welcome if they have backgrounds in health, safety and environmental engineering.

"Although today's statement of intent is not definitive -- as the rules will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny -- it is intended to provide migrants and employers with enough information to make effective plans," notes the UKBA.

Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at [email protected].