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UK Nobel Prize winners criticise immigration cap

A group of Nobel prize-winning scientists has warned Britain’s proposed cap on immigration could damage the country’s reputation for scientific excellence,.

The annual cap has attracted further criticism  after this week’s announcement that two Russian-born scientists at the University of Manchester won the Nobel prize for Physics.

Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester, who won the physics prize, might have been put off coming to Britain if an immigration cap had existed when they applied to come here, they claimed.

“If I had had a visa delay, I might have decided to go elsewhere,” Novoselov said.

The scientists called on the government to make similar allowances for top figures in science and industry as have been made for top athletes, such as Premiership footballers, wishing to work in Britain.

“The proposed quotas are already damaging research in the U.K.,” Paul Nurse, the president-elect of the Royal Society, said. “What sort of policy allows footballers in, but not scientists who can stimulate growth? It is pure madness.”

In a letter to The Times, the eight scientists said the new immigration restrictions imposed by the Cameron government would deprive science and industry of talent. Britain’s coalition government introduced an interim cap in July, to be made permanent in April. The number of non-EU workers was limited to 24,100 for 2010.

In the letter, the academics wrote: “The government has seen fit to introduce an exception to the rules for Premier League footballers. It is a sad reflection of our priorities as a nation if we cannot afford the same recognition for elite scientists and engineers.”

“International collaborations underlie 40 per cent of the UK’s scientific output, but would become far more difficult if we were to constrict our borders. The UK produces nearly 10 per cent of the world’s scientific output with only 1 per cent of its population; we punch above our weight because we can engage with excellence wherever it occurs.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to bring net immigration, which is currently 176,000 a year, down from “hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.”