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Immigration cap ‘threatens future of leading genetics lab’

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, responsible for sequencing a third of the first human genome, is struggling to recruit the scientists it needs due to the tough new visa controls.

The laboratory in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, employs dozens of experts from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) but only a handful of them would qualify to stay under the rules.

It is feared that the institute’s pioneering work in human genetic variation and its influence on conditions such as Aids, cancer, flu and malaria, will be jeopardised.

Referring to the Coalition’s immigration cap, introduced in July, Professor Mike Stratton, the institute’s director, told The Times: “It is outrageous that these changes have been introduced.

“Sanger competes at the highest international level in one of the most competitive areas of science. We need to recruit the best people from all over the world.

“The restrictions implicit in these rules will hinder Sanger’s ability to produce science at the highest level.”

He added that without being able to attract overseas talent, the centre could be overtaken by its rivals in the US or China.

The new controls limit the number of immigrants from outside the EEA who can work in Britain to 24,100 until April, when a permanent cap may be introduced.

Other changes to the points system for skilled migrants wishing to obtain a visa to work in Britain have also been tightened.

As a result, only four of 19 Sanger scientists with the broadest type of work permit would be able to stay, it has been reported.

The claims follow repeated warnings from academic leaders that budget cuts to be announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review will trigger a brain drain of scientific talent from the country’s top universities and research institutes.