According to the Life Sciences 2030 Skills Strategy report, published in 2020, the UK Life Sciences sector has the potential to create approximately 133,000 jobs over the next 10 years. However, within the sector there are known skills shortages, particularly following Brexit, with biological scientists and biochemists having been on the shortage occupation list since 2019. Therefore, there is a continued need to attract and retain international talent. 

Some organisations in the sector have looked to the UK's immigration system to provide a solution to the skills shortages. We consider below what the UK's visa routes can offer to employers seeking to recruit employees with specialist skill sets.

Options for recruiting international talent

There are a number of existing visa routes which may be suitable for employers looking to recruit overseas workers with specialist skills who want to work in the Life Sciences sector. 

For example:

  • Skilled Worker – individuals can come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job with an employer (provided that the employer has a sponsor licence) if they meet the necessary skills and minimum salary requirements (with the benefit of lower salary thresholds jobs on the shortage occupation list). You can find more details on the UKVI guidance page. Many employers who have recruited those on Graduate route visas will be considering sponsoring employees under this route when their visas expire from the summer of 2023 onwards. Those employers need to obtain a sponsor licence in order to retain those employees.
  • Global Business Mobility – businesses looking to establish a presence in, or transfer staff to the UK for specific business purposes could benefit from this route. Individuals would need to meet various minimum skills and salary requirements, with most usually having had to have worked for their overseas employer for a specific period before coming to the UK. You can read our previous blog for more information.
  • High Potential Individual – certain highly skilled individuals (those with graduate or postgraduate degrees from a non-UK university on the UKVI global universities list) can obtain temporary permission to come to work in the UK. The employer doesn’t need a sponsor licence. You can read our previous blog for more information.

Other routes which might be of interest include the Scale-up route which was a new additional visa route which opened in August 2022.

New Innovator Founder route

Individuals looking to set up a Life Sciences business in the UK, could potentially utilise the new Innovator Founder route, which opened to new applicants on 13 April 2023. It replaces both the Start-up and Innovator routes. This new route may provide an easier solution for businesses who want to secure visas for life science founders as there is more flexibility under the new route in terms of minimum levels of investment required.

It's available for overseas nationals seeking to enter or remain in the UK to establish a UK business based on an innovative, viable and scalable business idea they have generated or significantly contributed to. You can read our recent blog for more information.

More information 

You can find more details on all these visa routes on UK Visas and Immigration website. If you have any questions about recruiting or employing overseas nationals please contact Elaine McIlroy or Erin McLafferty.