Scientists and Immigration

If judged by the letters and articles in the Times (October 6 and 7), anyone would think that the government was proposing a complete lock-down on people admitted to Britain for work.  The award of the 2010 Nobel Prize for physics to two foreign-born professors at Manchester University has been seized on by some campaigners as somehow “proving” what a good thing for Britain immigration is.

The case for ensuring that genuinely distinguished people can continue coming to work in Britain for given periods of time is well made and understood, but a sense of proportion needs to be maintained about the government’s immigration cap.  With over one in ten of the UK resident population born outside the United Kingdom, and over one in ten academics in British universities from outside the EU, we are hardly a closed society or about to become one.  Citing Lord Rutherford (Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908) as an immigrant (Times October 7) is absurd, given that he was born (in 1871) in the British Empire (New Zealand) which had then the single common nationality of British subject.

The present 24,000 cap on non-EU jobs permits (until next April) is greater than the total number of science lecturers at all British universities.  It has also to be judged in the context of the annual flow of 525,000 immigrants into the United Kingdom (ONS figures for 2009) which the present government, responding to the deep anxieties of the British people is publicly pledged to reduce drastically.  With 2,500,000 unemployed, soon to increase sharply, an increasing number of whom are likely to be graduate scientists, every employer must play their part in increasing job opportunities for British-born people so that this huge number can be reduced in all skill categories.

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