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Current visa restrictions a threat to UK establishing itself as a global hub for health and science

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), has written to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP expressing ‘grave concern about the current visa application process for international academics and scholars to visit the UK for academic conferences’.

The letter was prompted by the news that at least 17 speakers and delegates from low-and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia have been denied visas to enter the United Kingdom to attend the 2nd Women Leaders in Global Health Conference, being held at LSHTM over 8 and 9 November.

Nearly 900 participants from more than 70 countries and over 80 nationalities, including Chief Medical Officer for England Dame Sally Davies and Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General for Programmes at the World Health Organization, are attending the conference which aims to take a focused look at gender issues in global health leadership. Globally, women occupy less than 25% of influential leadership positions despite making up 75% of the healthcare workforce.

In his letter to the Home Secretary, Professor Piot writes:

“This conference is a forum to promote international debate and to nurture new talent. The denial of these visas not only excludes experts and emerging experts from low- and middle-income countries from participating in these global dialogues around health and health equity but it also precludes the UK from benefiting from this important knowledge exchange. If the UK wants to establish itself as a global hub for health and science, the current visa restrictions represent a significant threat to that goal.

“Our School is already considering moving the locations of many of our large international meetings to outside of the UK so that valued global experts can participate more easily. Unfortunately, the current restrictive criteria for granting short-term business visas can only deter organisations from holding future conferences in the UK at a crucial time when the UK should be ‘open for business’.”

In October a Wellcome Trust report that found that a quarter of African and Asian researchers encountered visa problems.