Fast-track visa is key to attracting researchers

Ireland’s streamlined work visa system is a strong factor in getting top scientists to locate here


Ireland has been operating a fast-track immigration scheme for non-EU researchers since 2007. Ireland was not obliged to introduce a scientific visa under the 2005 European Union directive, as we are non-Schengen states. However, it was recognised that the visa would help to attract non-EU researchers to the country. The scheme, which offers a free and fast service, has been successfully operating in Ireland since 2007 and is open to universities and companies.

Visas are issued rapidly and work permits are not required. Researchers’ families can accompany them immediately and avail of public schooling. Over the last six years, 1,720 researchers have come to Ireland under this scheme. There are more than 40 organisations using the fast-track scheme, with seven universities benefitting the most: they host more than 80 per cent of all non-EU researchers.

In total, there are researchers from 78 countries, with the majority coming from India, China and the US. Almost one third of the researchers had already left their home country before coming to Ireland. Most were PhD students based in Europe and some in the US and Canada. Most non-EU researchers found employment in ICT/ computer and life sciences, 27 per cent and 26 per cent respectively across Irish research institutions. A significant share of researchers work in engineering (23 per cent), while physics and chemistry attracted 17 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

Survey of researchers
In March, the Euraxess Ireland office, which operates the visa scheme, conducted a survey of researchers who have used the fast-track scheme. One of the most highly appreciated benefits of the scheme is a significant reduction in the length of the immigration process. For 50 per cent of the researchers, the process takes a maximum of two weeks and for 30 per cent from two to four weeks. Previously, the time needed for visa and work-permit arrangements typically took from six to eight weeks.

More than 50 per cent of the respondents considered the fast-track visa process as very important and they are well aware that the process is smooth. The exemption from any need for working permission after two years on this scheme and immediate family reunification were significant pulling factors for the researchers. The survey shows they are satisfied with the quality of service they receive from their employer, with 70 per cent rating the assistance level as excellent.

The survey revealed that 23 per cent of researchers would definitely not have come to Ireland if the scheme were not in place. Another 53 per cent said they might have decided not to choose Ireland for the next step in their research career without this opportunity.

It is often assumed that only the quality of the research facilities and people are the deciding factor when deciding to move to another country. This shows clearly that immigration is a key part of the decision-making process.

Looking to the future, it will become more challenging to attract and retain researchers in Ireland. This survey shows conclusively that one must think beyond purely research-related issues in order to attract people. Fast-track immigration is an important consideration for internationally mobile scientists and helps to attract the best global talent to Ireland. We now know that facilitating non-EU researchers can be a critical part of their decision to come to Ireland. By adopting the scientific visa, Ireland has become a more attractive location for researchers.

Conor O’Carroll is research director in the Irish Universities Association,