LONDON-The Government has announced that a fast-track visa will open next month to attract the world’s leading scientists.

The visas will have no cap on the numbers of suitably qualified people able to come to the UK.

The announcement follows a pledge last year by the PM to turn the UK into a “supercharged magnet to attract scientists like iron filings”. Researchers remain concerned about the uncertainty of the UK’s role in EU research programmes following Brexit.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “The UK has a proud history of scientific discovery, but to lead the field and face the challenges of the future we need to continue to invest in talent and cutting-edge research.

“That is why as we leave the EU I want to send a message that the UK is open to the most talented minds in the world, and stand ready to support them to turn their ideas into reality.”

The new visa system will begin on February 20 and managed by the UK Research and Innovation Agency (UKRI), which funds government research, rather than the Home Office. This is to ensure that suitable applicants are quickly assessed and fast-tracked by those qualified to asses their scientific credentials, rather than immigration officials.

Tacitly addressing concerns about the impact of Brexit on the UK’s participation in international programmes, the government claims the scheme has been introduced in order to enable UK-based research projects to recruit the best scientists and mathematicians.

The announcement is a big win for research organisations who had been lobbying the government very hard for a fast-track visa system for leading researchers to mitigate what they feared would be a brain drain after Brexit.

They are especially pleased that UKRI, with the support of other so-called endorsed research organisations, can vouch for an applicant - instead of Home Office officials attempting to determine their scientific attainment.

Prof Sir VenkiRamakrishnan, president of the UK’s Royal Society, was among those lobbying hardest for the system to be run by research organisations. He welcomed the announcement, saying the new visa would be “attractive” to talented researchers and specialists from all over the world - and at all stages of their careers.

“It sends out a positive message that the UK is committed to remaining open to overseas science talent who would collaborate with our outstanding home-grown minds,” he said.

“What is good for science is good for everybody, and can help tackle important challenges such as climate change or disease.”

Sir Venki added: “The government has listened to the research community, and this is an important first step in creating the visa system that we need for attracting global scientific talent - one that is welcoming, faster and more flexible, and takes into account the long-term aspirations of scientists and their families.”

But Dr Robert Massey, deputy director of the Royal Astronomical Society tweeted that he was concerned the system would still restrict the entry of young, up-and-coming researchers.

He gave it “a cautious welcome”, adding: “The issues will still though be about calling for the ‘most talented’, which isn’t a label many early career researchers identify with.”