Britain's immigration laws 'favour footballers over scientists', Nobel prize group say
New Immigration laws appear to suggest that Britain values footballers more than scientists, a group of Nobel prize-winning experts have said.
The group of eight Nobel laureates, including two Russian migrants who won the physics prize on Tuesday, has urged a retink on the government's newly introduced visa policy, saying Britain’s reputation for scientific excellence was under threat.
The scientists called on ministers to make similar allowances for the elite players in science and industry as have already been made for top athletes, such as Premiership footballers, wishing to work in Britain.
They warned the visa restrictions would discourage promising students and distinguished scientists from sharing their expertise with British universities and industries and prevent talented researchers from working here.
Sir Harry Kroto, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996, told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that the rules appeared "odd".
"It does seem a bit odd when footballers are allowed to break this (visa rule)," said Prof Kroto, whose parents were both refugees who came to Britain from Germany in 1937.
"The UK loses out and in the future we can see the UK can only survive on its intellectual property, rather than as a country that provides things, with countries like India and China providing things more cheaply, so we need to look at that more carefully.
"If one looks over the years, one quarter of the Nobel Prizes that came to the UK were won by immigrants from outside.
He added: "It's probably very unwise to not look very carefully at the scientists, engineers and technologists who could come to this country and give this country the extra support it needs to compete in the future."
Sir Paul Nurse, the president-elect of the Royal Society, added: “The proposed quotas are already damaging research in the UK. What sort of policy allows footballers in, but not scientists who can stimulate growth? It is pure madness.”
The comments came after Britain’s Nobel prize-winners had earlier made their case in a letter to The Times.
It was signed by eight of the 11 living British or British-based scientists to win a science Nobel since 1996: Sir Paul Nurse, Sir Tim Hunt, Sir Martin Evans, Sir Harry Kroto, Sir John Walker, Sir John Sulston, Prof Andre Geim and Prof Konstantin Novoselov.
Prof Geim and Prof Novoselov, from the University of Manchester, may have been put off coming to Britain if an immigration cap had existed when they applied to come here, they claimed.
“If I had had a visa delay, I might have decided to go elsewhere," Professor Novoselov added.
The Coalition introduced an interim cap in July, before the system is made permanent next April. The number of non-EU workers was limited to 24,100 for 2010, down about 5pc overall to prevent a spike in applications before the permanent cap is introduced.
Last week the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned that the cap was preventing businesses from recruiting the best international talent.
The trade body said that keeping the UK open for business was crucial for supporting economic recovery and called for an immediate review of the interim system.
Mark Elborne, General Electric’s national executive for North Europe, disclosed last month he had been unable to hire a stem-cell research executive from India and gas-turbine engineers from outside the European Union because of the Government ban.
Business Secretary Vince Cable also recently voiced concerns, warning that “a lot of damage is being done to British industry” by the restrictions.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has promised to bring net immigration, which is currently 176,000 a year, down from “hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands”.
A total of 190,640 foreign workers and dependants moved to Britain last year, despite unemployment hitting 2.5 million.
Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, said Britain could benefit from migration but not uncontrolled migration.
"Britain remains open for business and we will continue to attract and retain the brightest and the best people who can make a real difference to our economic growth, but unlimited migration places unacceptable pressure on public services," he told the BBC.
"We have consulted with business and other interested parties on how the limit should work and have also asked the Migration Advisory Committee to consult on what the actual limit should be.
"These consultations are now closed and we will announce the findings in due course."