Skip to content

Q&A for researchers: Working in the EU and UK

Will the status of non-UK nationals working in the UK change when the UK leaves the EU?

Researchers from around the world work in the UK. 29% of academic staff in UK universities are non-UK nationals, with 17% coming from other EU counties and 12% from the rest of the world. (HESA)

Where do academic researchers working in the UK come from?

Where do academic researchers working in the UK come from?

Source: Higher Education Statistics Authority. 2017 Staff numbers and characteristics. Figures include academic staff with functions in research, in teaching or neither. (see hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/staff accessed 14 March 2018.

Those coming from outside the European Economic Area currently apply for visas, through the UK’s immigration system. There are a number of different visas that researchers may use – you can read more about this at gov.uk/apply-uk-visa 

Those from countries within the European Economic Area currently do not need to apply for visas. The transition agreement reached with the EU in March 2018 has confirmed that these rights would remain unchanged until the end of the transition period on 31st December 2020.  How this may change when the UK leaves the EU will be decided by the UK government.

In 2017, the government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC, an independent body which advises the Government on migration matters) to undertake research to inform this decision.

The Society submitted evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee:

The Migration Advisory Committee has responded with reports on the impact of EEA workers and international students published in September 2018.

We have called for the UK government to attract talented people from around the world by:

  • Streamlining the UK’s current immigration system
  • Removing international students from the immigration figures
  • Rapidly developing a future immigration system to be in place at the point of departure from the EU that enables workers from the EEA and Switzerland to with skills relevant to research, innovation and enterprise activities to travel and work within the UK with ease in support of their work.

The Society recommends the implementation of an immigration system for people with skills relevant to research and innovation that is fair, transparent and efficient. Specifically:

  • any researcher who is given an academic appointment or project funding as part of a research programme which is publicly funded (including those provided by the Commission, UKRI, and the UK or other national academies), or who is offered a long-term post in a UK university or research institute, should automatically be guaranteed entry for themselves and for their families;
  • such posts should also confer guaranteed entry to essential members of a researcher’s wider team; 
  • the costs of any necessary visas should be commensurate with typical academic salaries and with the length of stay being requested – from a day visit to long term appointments;
  • where an automatic visa does not apply, the detail required from applicants and the time taken to make a decision should be proportionate to the purpose of travel. For example, it should be possible for a scientist to be invited at short notice to a conference in the UK, and be able to satisfy entry requirements sufficiently speedily to allow attendance;
  • researchers in academia and industry moving to the UK on a long-term basis should be offered attractive conditions, including routes to residency and citizenship, freedom to travel and the right to bring dependants; 
  • the government should negotiate reciprocal arrangements to ensure that UK researchers can travel and work overseas in support of their work with ease;
  • a researcher who establishes a company built on the results of research they have carried out in the UK, and which has attracted substantial initial investment, should be given automatic right to residence, so that the UK can benefit from the translation of research and the impacts of innovation.

Comparable arrangements should apply to researchers funded by or working in charities and businesses.

We recognise that this system may not be ready for when we leave the EU and an implementation period may be necessary. There must however be no discontinuity in the immigration system that would significantly disrupt the mobility of researchers as the UK passes through the final stages of exiting the EU.

We welcome the Government’s ambition to ensure that the process for acquiring the proposed Settled Status is light-touch and inexpensive. 

Read our factsheet (PDF) for more information about why these arrangements are important for scientific research and innovation.

Will the status of students (including PhD students) in the UK who are non-UK nationals change when the UK leaves the EU?

People from around the world come and study in the UK. 57% of postgraduate research students in UK universities are from outside the UK, with 20% coming from other EU countries and 37% from the rest of the world.

Where do postgraduate researchers in the UK come from?

Where do postgraduate researchers in the UK come from?

Source: Higher Education Statistics Authority. 2017 Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2016/17. Postgraduate researchers includes students undertaking research masters’ and PhDs full-time. Part-time students are not included.

Those coming from outside the European Economic Area currently apply for visas, through the UK’s immigration system. 

Those from countries within the European Economic Area currently do not need to apply for visas. The transition agreement reached with the EU in March 2018 has confirmed that these rights would remain unchanged until the end of the transition period on 31st December 2020.  How this may change when the UK leaves the EU will be decided by the UK government.

In 2017, the government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC, an independent body which advises the Government on migration matters) to undertake research to inform this decision.

The Society submitted evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee highlighting the impact of international students on the health of the UK’s research and innovation system and has called for the government to send a message that the UK will remain a global beacon for higher education and that the brightest and best young minds around the world are welcome to study in the UK by removing international students from immigration figures and targets. The Migration Advisory Committee published its report on international students in September 2018.

Will UK researchers be able to work elsewhere in the EU once the UK has left?

The Society has called for the UK government to seek arrangements that create the lowest possible barriers to practising scientists seeking to move across borders.

UK-nationals work in research around the world. They may work abroad for long periods, or travel for short visits to collaborate on projects or attend conferences. 

When they work outside the UK, they must go through the immigration systems in place in their destination country. Find more information about some of the different requirements

Currently they are free to move and work within the European Economic Area. The transition agreement reached with the EU in March 2018 has confirmed that these rights will remain unchanged until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. This agreement is enshrined in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement published in November 2018, which will come into force if ratified by the UK and EU parliaments. How this may change when the UK leaves the EU will be decided by each destination country.

Read our factsheet (PDF) for more information about why international mobility is important for scientific research and innovation.

Will UK students (including PhD students) be able to study elsewhere in the EU once the UK has left?

UK-nationals can choose to study around the world. 

When they go to study outside the UK, they must go through the immigration systems in place in their destination country. 

Currently they are free to study and work within the European Economic Area. The transition agreement reached with the EU in March 2018 has confirmed that these rights would remain unchanged until the end of the transition period on 31st December 2020. This agreement is enshrined in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement published in November 2018, which will come into force if ratified by the UK and EU parliaments.. How this may change when the UK leaves the EU will be decided by each destination country.

The Society has called for the UK government to seek arrangements that create the lowest possible barriers to practising scientists seeking to move across borders.

Read our factsheet (PDF) for more information about why this is important for scientific research and innovation.

Will the Royal Society provide additional funding to support immigration/relocation expenses for researchers coming to work in the UK from around the world?

We do not yet know how the immigration system will change when the UK leaves the EU and what impact this will have on the costs of immigration/relocation. We will be keeping this under review.

We currently offer support to EU and international researchers as part of the new Royal Society Wolfson Fellowship:

  • Up to £250,000 can be requested.
  • Funding can be used flexibly by the fellow and as part of their start-up package to support their research programme and team and can cover salary, research expenses, a four year PhD studentship and other justified research costs.
  • For further details, visit the scheme webpage 

We currently offer support to EU and international researchers as part of the Newton International Fellowship:

  • Relocation budget of £2,000.
  • Funding can be used for visa fees and basic setup (i.e. rent deposit).
  • For further details, visit the scheme webpage 

What will happen to EU laws, policies and regulations which apply to science and research following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU?

The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will transpose existing EU regulation into UK law so there will be no immediate changes to regulation at the point that the UK exits the EU. A longer-term issue is the extent to which the UK chooses to follow or diverge from EU regulations over the coming years.

On 2 March 2018, the UK Prime Minister indicated that the UK may remain part of EU agencies that are critical for some research intensive industries including the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The Society is calling for the government to provide certainty and clarity by promoting harmonised regulation relating to science and research. For example, future association with the Framework Programmes may require some regulatory alignment. EU policy governing animal research is a condition of all countries that wish to access Horizon 2020 funding, whether or not they are EU Member States.

  • After exiting the EU, seamless involvement in ambitious European projects requires that UK and EU regulations continue to be maximally aligned wherever it supports science and research. A mechanism to ensure frictionless cooperation between EU and UK regulations relevant to scientific collaboration must be set up as a high priority.
  • However the government can also identify opportunities for the UK to take a world-leading, innovative approach to emerging areas of technology. In these cases the Society is calling for the UK to continue to take a prominent global role in shaping future regulation. And highlighting that any mechanism for frictionless cooperation should also enable the identification of exceptional instances where there is a clear case for regulatory change or the development of new regulation, which would be carried out through close discussion with international colleagues both within and outside of the EU.

Read our factsheet (PDF) for more information about why regulation that supports research and innovation and earns public confidence is important for scientific research and innovation.

This page was last updated on 30 November 2018

Was this page useful?
Thank you for your feedback
Thank you for your feedback. Please help us improve this page by taking our short survey.