The number of fast-track visas allowing scientists from around the world to undertake research at universities in the UK will double following concerns that Brexit will damage the industry.
Home secretary Priti Patel has announced she will immediately increase the number of accelerated visas for fellowships in science research from 62 to more than 120.
The move comes following warnings from university bosses of a significant scientific skills shortage and potential harm to their global reputation in the wake of Britain exiting the European Union.
Individuals who receive the fellowships will only need to provide a letter from the relevant funding organisation – which will see them fast-tracked to the Home Office visa application stage.
Ministers say the decision will ensure that researchers and scientists can come to the UK as soon as possible to keep Britain “at the forefront of innovation” and to solve “great challenges”.
University leaders have previously warned that leaving the EU without a deal could “compromise” vital research projects and lead to a mass exodus of world-leading academics and researchers.
In August, Boris Johnson announced that there would be no cap on elite researchers from across the globe coming to the UK after Brexit – as long as they are endorsed by recognised British bodies.
Now the Home Office has set out plans for the fellowships – which will rise with immediate effect.
Ms Patel said: “We want to make sure the UK continues to be at the forefront of innovation, so we need an immigration system that attracts the sharpest minds from around the globe.
“As part of this ambitious plan, we are taking decisive action today to boost the number of top scientists and elite researchers who can benefit from fast-tracked entry into the UK.”
Ben Moore, policy analyst at the Russell Group association of universities, said the announced showed the government was “serious” about ensuring the country can “attract leading international talent”.
But he added: “There is more to be done – the next step will be to allow universities to recruit all staff essential to research, including early-career researchers and laboratory technicians, through the planned Global Talent visa and new points-based system.”
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said: “This welcome announcement will help attract the brightest and best research stars to the UK at a time when our place on the world stage is changing.”
Additional reporting by PA