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WHO protests about difficulty of obtaining UK visas for world leading scientists

The World Health Organisation has spoken out after several leading academics were blocked from attending a Liverpool conference on healthcare research due to visa issues. The Global Symposium on Health Research is said to be putting together a dossier of the immigration issues experienced by at least 10 of the 2,000+ delegates.

According to press reports, some of the affected delegates had been asked to pay in excess of half of their monthly salary to the Home Office in visa application fees, and then turned down because they could not prove they had sufficient funds in their bank accounts. One leading academic in the Guardian said the situation was “racial discrimination, and discrimination against the poor.”

Members of the scientific, and wider academic community, are now actively considering whether the UK – and other countries with harsh immigration regimes such as the US – are appropriate venues for important conferences and events. Co-ordinating staff at the WHO, as well as from UK institutions such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, have suggested that future events be held “in countries where the invited participants can more easily attend.”

At a time when international institutions (including the EU medicines regulator), vital elements of Europe’s space industry, and others are moving out of the UK due to Brexit, many will argue that it is more important now than ever to welcome leading scientific and cultural figures to the UK for events such as this. However, the Home Office strictly enforces visa rules in the same way for all applicants, and this is what can lead to situations such as this one occurring.

Theresa May, and others, have been much quoted in the press this week, extolling the virtues of a future UK immigration system without the EU. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know whether or not any new system which may come in would prevent this happening again. Indeed if, as the Government has suggested, eligibility for a UK visa is to be linked to income, it may be that far from improving access to eminent academics from other countries, the situation deteriorates


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