Sir Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 2010 after they developed the material graphene at the University of Manchester. According to the University of Manchester’s website:

“Graphene is a two dimensional material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb or chicken wire structure. It is the thinnest material known and yet is also one of the strongest. It conducts electricity as efficiently as copper and outperforms all other materials as a conductor of heat. Graphene is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that even the smallest atom helium cannot pass through it.”

Chancellor George Osborne has promised funding of £21.5 million to unlock the potential commercial applications of this material which could include stronger materials for aircraft, more efficient batteries and solar panels.

Last week, Mr Osborne in an interview claimed that Britain was still open for the brightest and the best. He argued that the perception that Britain was not open for the brightest and the best was wrong and needed to be tackled. Mr Osborne relied on the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa category as a route for top flight scientists to come to the UK.

Sir Andre Geim, on the other hand, launched an attack on UK immigration rules by calling them stupid and claiming that his team would not have been able to come to the UK to undertake the Nobel prize winning research under the current system.

A closer look at the Nobel prize winning team clarifies whether Mr Osborne or the Nobel prize winning scientist is right.

Immigration rule 245B defines Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) as a visa route for those individuals who are already internationally recognised at the highest level as world leaders in science, humanities, art and engineering or those who show exceptional promise of becoming world leaders. The application process requires the prospective applicant to obtain an endorsement from a Government body, which for scientists is the Royal Society. The immigration rules only allow the Royal Society to make 300 of these endorsements in each financial year.

The UK Border Agency have provide some guidance/eligibility criteria on applications for endorsement by the Royal Society which can be found here. Looking at Konstantin Novoselov, when he first came to the UK in 2001 to continue research with Sir Andre Geim, it is difficult to say that he would have received this endorsement from the Royal Society. This is because in 2001, Konstantin was only 27 years old, had not finished his PhD and did not look very different to others undertaking PhDs. Furthermore, according to his CV and list of publications he had only published 8 papers up to and including 2001. His career seems to take off after he came to the UK in 2001 as since then he published 114 papers and received many awards and accolades. If Konstantin was not allowed to team up with Sir Andre Geim at the University of Manchester in 2001 at such an early stage of his career, who knows whether the UK would be at the forefront of Graphene research and development which could create a multi-billion pound industry.