Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:44 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford 8:44 pm, 28th January 2019

I am delighted that my hon. Friend raises that point. One of my reasons for voting for the withdrawal agreement is that in the future partnership discussions, in black and white, is the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications. That level of detail on such issues is so important. Yes, we must continue to welcome those with training and real skills, so we must make sure those skills, as well as the individual, can be moved.

I am a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which has done a huge amount of work on the future of the visa and migration system. This country has world leaders in science research, and we are a world leader because people come here from all over the world. We must make sure that we remain open to the best brains and the best talent, but that does not just mean the top professors; it also means skilled lab technicians and PhD students, and we need to make sure our visa system works for them, too.

Mobility is important. Scientists need to be able to move from country to country. I often give the example that people who work on the British Antarctic Survey will, by definition, not be spending 12 months of every year in Britain. They need to go to Antarctica. Scientists often need to go backwards and forwards to work and study, so a fixed regime that says they have to stay here for x number of years and cannot move backwards and forwards does not work for them.

Bureaucracy was raised by a previous speaker, and scientists need to be able to act fast. A post-doc who has been offered a two-year or three-year grant to get their research done does not want to hang around for six months to find out whether they have their visa. They will go to a country that will make the decision faster, so we need to make sure that we can act quickly. And when we are welcoming scientists, we must make sure that we also welcome their families, who will want to come with them, and we must have a policy to encourage that.

I was touched by what techUK told us before this debate. The UK tech sector is growing two and a half times as fast as the rest of the economy, and one in five of those working in the sector was not born in the UK. They are young, highly talented and highly mobile, and again the salary threshold may not be a proxy for skills in this area.

I am lucky to have a university in my constituency, and our universities are thriving and exciting places to be. Nearly one in three of our academics, and nearly one in every two of those on research-only contracts, was not born in the UK. Again, if the £30,000 threshold were to be agreed—it is not finalised—it may not be the right proxy for talent, and the universities have repeatedly made that point.

We need to make sure that we continue to have overseas students, who add so much to our universities, and I would like the Minister to consider the arrangements for post-study work. In Australia, for example, a student can stay for two to four years after their degree. If we want to compete for talent with countries like Australia, we need to give students more time.

My final point is that I am not one of those who says that the Government should be rushing into decisions on this. I do not blame them for taking time to get this right, as they need to take the time to consult. We need a system that rebuilds trust and confidence in parts of our country where people feel let down by the previous system. I want to make sure we have a system that is the best in the world and that we look at experiences from other countries. I want to end up with a system that welcomes people with skills and talents, welcomes people who want to come here to work hard and welcomes people who have come here to flee horror. That is the message I would like to leave the Minister with.