Skip to main content

Our doors are open – one answer to meeting the life sciences skills shortage?

The life sciences industry is one of the key sectors in the UK economy, and there is significant demand for skilled professionals in this field. The sector is facing a major skills shortage though, with businesses struggling to find talent with the skills and experience required to fulfil their needs.

The government have recognised that many sectors are facing skills shortages and have introduced initiatives to help businesses attract overseas talent to the UK. There are now several immigration routes aimed at professionals who wish to relocate here.

Global Talent visa

One such initiative is the Global Talent visa. This visa is a UK immigration route designed for highly skilled individuals in specific fields, including academia and research. The visa is intended to attract talented individuals from around the world to come and work in the UK and contribute to its research and innovation sectors.

The Global Talent visa has several sub-categories, one of which is aimed at individuals who are recognised as world leaders or potential world leaders in their field of research or academia. This includes those working in the life sciences industry who have made significant contributions to their field, or are at an early stage of their career and show exceptional promise.

To be eligible for the Global Talent visa, applicants must first apply for an endorsement confirming that they are a leader or potential leader in their field. Endorsements for professionals wishing to work in the UK’s life sciences sector are issued by the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Academy, depending on the applicant’s field of expertise. Endorsements are available in the following four circumstances:

  • Where the applicant has accepted an eligible position at an approved UK HEI or research institute.
  • Where the applicant has been awarded an individual fellowship on a list approved by one of the endorsing bodies.
  • If the applicant’s name or job title is specified in a successful grant application from an endorsed funder approved by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
  • Following a successful application for a full peer review to one of the endorsing bodies. That application requires careful preparation of a portfolio evidencing their achievements.

Once the applicant has been endorsed, they can then apply for the Global Talent visa.

Applications for a Global Talent visa can also be submitted without endorsement by winners of specified prestigious prizes, including the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Centenary Prize, the Biochemical Society’s International Award, the British Pharmacological Society’s Vane Medal, a Wolf Prize or a Nobel Prize.

If the Global Talent visa application is successful, the applicant will be granted a visa for up to five years, with the option to extend or apply for settlement after that time. The chance of settlement in the UK would be appealing to international applicants who are seeking to remain here permanently.

Graduate Route visa

Another initiative has been to offer international graduates who have completed their degree in the UK the opportunity to remain here and work. The UK’s Graduate Route visa, which was introduced in July 2021, enables international students who have completed a degree at a recognised UK HEI to remain in the UK for two years if they have graduated from a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or three years if they have completed a PhD. This visa is open to graduates from all fields, including those in the life sciences industry.

The Graduate Route visa can be an excellent stepping stone for recent graduates to gain practical work experience in the country’s life sciences sector, irrespective of what area their degree covered. It allows an applicant to work in any job or at any skill level. This can be beneficial for acquiring hands-on experience, expanding professional networks, and enhancing skills within the industry.

Skilled Worker visa

One of the most popular immigration categories for employers is the Skilled Worker visa. According to the latest statistics, there were around 268,000 work visas granted in 2022, of which 86% were Skilled Worker visas. The Skilled Worker visa is designed for skilled professionals from outside the UK who have a job offer from a UK employer. Unlike the Global Talent and Graduate routes, prospective employers of workers in this category first need to register with the Home Office as a licensed sponsor. In order to being sponsored, an applicant for a Skilled Worker visa needs an offer of a job which satisfies specific skill and salary thresholds; the applicant must also satisfy an English language requirement.

This has become an important visa route for employers in all industries struggling with recruitment issues, and life sciences is no exception. On introducing the Skilled Worker route as a replacement for the Tier 2 (General) category, the government reduced the minimum skill level requirements enabling a larger pool of talent to seek employment in the UK. They have also added several occupations, such as medical and pharmaceutical technicians, bioinformaticians, and pharmaceutical quality assurance and quality control professionals, to the Shortage Occupation List. This list comprises professions or job roles that have been assessed as being in particularly short supply. These occupations benefit from a reduced salary threshold, and bear slightly lower visa application fees when applying for Skilled Worker visas than other roles.

Another advantage that some life sciences sector employers may benefit from when sponsoring workers under the Skilled Worker route is an exemption from the Immigration Skills Charge. The Skills Charge is an additional fee paid by employers when sponsoring workers under the Skilled Worker route and can be as much as £5,000 for a five-year visa. Workers sponsored to fill roles as Chemical Scientists or Research and Development Managers are exempt from the charge, though.

Find out more

Overall, the UK government has sought to create several initiatives to tackle the skills shortage in the life sciences industry. These initiatives aim to attract and retain skilled professionals and encourage investment in R&D, helping to ensure the continued growth and success of the sector in the UK.

We will be hearing more about plugging skills shortages at the annual PING Conference on 19 June, with James Turner, Head of Work Services, UK Visas & Immigration at The Home Office.

In partnership with MedCity, VWV offers a monthly Lawyer in Residence programme. We would be delighted to discuss clinical trials further with readers at a Lawyer in Residence session – a free half hour appointment can be booked here.

Nishil is a Partner in the VWV Immigration team, and has over 13 years’ experience advising businesses and individuals around the world with their immigration matters. Nishil has experience with dealing with all types of immigration applications, including skilled worker visa, spousal visa, ILR and British citizenship visa applications.

If you have any questions relating to the topics covered in this article, please contact Nishil Patel, an Immigration Partner in VWV’s Employment team on 07384 813 073 or at





Contact us