India born Nobel Prize winner Venkatraman (Venki) Ramakrishnan has called for a “sensible” post-Brexit immigration system to ensure that mobility of scientists is maintained when Britain leaves the European Union (EU) next year.
Prof Venki, as he is popularly known, is the president of the Royal Society and is among Britain’s key advocates for science.
He warned that Britain is in danger of losing its position as a leading scientific hub in the event of a no-deal or bad-deal as the UK negotiates its future ties with the EU.
“We in the Royal Society and the rest of the scientific community are working very hard to have a new sensible system for immigration that would be fast, transparent, efficient and with proportionate costs,” said Prof Venki.
“We plan to fight very, very hard to make mobility straightforward, regula-tions transparent and efficient so that this is less of an issue. This is a political fight, but we intend to do our best,” he said at a Royal Society event in London on Monday (17).
Prof Venki, who was knighted by the Queen in 2012 for his contribution to science, was joined by two former presidents of the Royal Society geneticist Sir Paul Nurse and astronomer Lord Martin Rees who both warned that the political aspects of the Brexit debate “threatened to drown out the interests of the scientific community”.
“The current immigration system for non-EU migrants is utterly not fit for purpose. It is onerous, it puts people off, it costs too much money. The present political drivers for Brexit have very little sympathy for these arguments because of the anti-immigration impact,” said Sir Paul, who serves as the director of the Francis Crick Institute in London.
Prof Venki, who was born in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, in south India, moved to the UK 19 years ago. He recalled undergoing a “fairly simple” process as he arrived in Britain at the time. However, “the requirements today are so onerous that they act as a barrier,” he added.
Britain’s scientific community is calling on the government to retain a close association with European science, in the form of a “closest possible associate membership” within the overall EU deal.
“We feel that we are at a crossroads for British and European science as a result of the current negotiations that are going on. There is a lot of talk about various issues around Brexit and we are worried that in all these talks and nego-tiations somehow science should not take a back seat,” said Prof Venki.
“If science loses, everyone loses,” he added.
The Royal Society warns that a no-deal or bad-deal Brexit means the UK stands to lose access to more than £1 billion a year in EU research funding, access to new medicines and technologies, regulatory alignment and access to highly skilled scientists.
“Countries depend on reputation for their science because we live in a global marketplace for talent and if we are perceived as an open society, that’s welcoming to the best of world, then that enhances science and that is good for everybody,” said Prof Venki.