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UK pharma’s hard-to-recruit posts need foreign recruitment boost

Post-Brexit immigration policy still unclear


A review of high-skilled and in-demand jobs has recommended ‘queue jumping’ measures to attract extra workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) yesterday published its full review of the shortage occupation list (SOL) and recommended that a number of key life science research professions be among those added to the list.

Jobs listed on the SOL are exempt from many of the current immigration restrictions, which include a cap on visa granted to many professions, including those working in life science research.

The committee has recommended broadening the SOL to include all roles in several other occupations such as medical practitioners, nurses, programmers and software development professionals.

The MAC’s review comes as the UK government prepares to leave the EU, but another comprehensive review will be needed again when post-Brexit immigration rules are decided.

Fears about a strict post-Brexit immigration policy have been hampering life science recruitment (as well as many other sectors) since the referendum result three years ago, and show no sign of being resolved soon.

Professions included on the SOC list can ‘jump the queue’ as they don’t have to be above the £35,800 salary threshold, and employers don’t have to first advertise within the UK.

Biological scientists and biochemists were among the many professions the MAC has recommended being added to the list.  The SOC list currently represents 1% of the UK jobs market, and would take it up to 9% if the government follows the recommendations.

The UK pharma industry association the ABPI contributed to the report, and says it emphasises that the sector relies on attracting a “sustained supply of specialist scientific skills through access to global, as well as home-grown talent.”

Among the roles it highlighted shortages in were bioinformatics, clinical pharmacology and immunology.

The report found that recruitment of bioinformaticians is especially challenging, and has been further impacted by a cap on visas granted for jobs ranked as “Tier 2”.  The MAC found 23% of bioinformaticians at the world-leading genomics research centre the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge are non-UK EEA citizens, and 21% are from the rest of the world.

It also concluded that degrees in bioinformatics are “starting to yield graduates but as many of these are from overseas (many STEM MSc courses are 50% overseas), the migration system will need to be practical to retain them.”

Another area of concern is data science, an area of increasing importance in life science research. The MAC was told by businesses that data science (in biological sciences or otherwise) is poorly catered for in the SOC codes, as these don’t recognise the crossover between domain specific knowledge (biology, engineering) and data science.

Andrew Croydon

Andrew Croydon

“The UK needs a highly skilled workforce so we maintain high quality research, create the advanced treatments people need and secure better outcomes for patients," said Andrew Croydon, Director of Skills and Education at the ABPI.

“The Committee has heard our views and recognised important skills gaps, including bioinformatics, clinical pharmacology and immunology.

“To create advanced treatments, increasingly we need our scientists to study the immune system and harness the power of genetics – hence all these disciplines are vital. Putting these fields on the shortage occupation list will help us as we look to address the evolving shortages we face.”

MAC Chair Professor Alan Manning said the recommendations were clearly only applicable under the current immigration system, while EU free movement remains. It is recommending a full review of the SOL once a clearer picture of a future immigration system has emerged.

The government has previously said that after Brexit, people from the EU should face the same immigration rules as those from the rest of the world.  However the new post-Brexit rules have not been finalised, and much depends on who will be the next prime minister (the leadership contest now underway) and how Brexit itself plays out.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

30th May 2019

From: Healthcare



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