Space & Sustainability Part 3: The Role Of UK Immigration Policy In Harnessing Commercial Viability For Growth

As explored in this series, space is about so much more than rockets, satellites, astronauts and interplanetary exploration.
UK Immigration
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As explored in this series, space is about so much more than rockets, satellites, astronauts and interplanetary exploration. Our lives are increasingly dependent on a myriad of satellites, public and commercial, that do everything from orienting everyday navigation technology, weather forecasting, monitoring the power grid and enabling every single financial transaction, as well as providing internet access to remote populations and fostering scientific Earth observation.

Environmental, climate and sustainability research has also been greatly bolstered by the advances in space-borne Earth observation, allowing scientists to monitor vegetation and ecosystem health, land-use changes, climate, water and cryosphere resources and more.

An entire ecosystem of activities involved with the supply and use of space technologies and capabilities exists, and there is huge economic potential in this sector. The global space economy will be worth a staggering $1.1 trillion by 2045, as the new opportunities in the sector are realised.

The commercial viability of the space sustainability market

While the space industry is already invaluable to the UK economy, worth over £17.5 billion in income with global satellite services underpinning at least 18% of UK GDP (£370 billion), and the sector offering some of the most skilled jobs in the country to a workforce of 48,800 people, UK space ambitions continue to grow. It is important, therefore, to consider how the space sustainability sector can remain commercially viable.

Governments and companies globally will need to invest more in space-related activities, including satellite technology and launches, space tourism, Earth observation, asteroid mining and space debris mitigation. The government has already delivered significant changes in how our objectives for space are delivered nationally. However, the next stage of our journey requires new ways for the government and the private sector to work together.

In February, the UK Space Agency announced funding for work that aims to prolong the life of satellites, as part of efforts to ensure space remains sustainable for future generations. In March, Science Minister Andrew Griffith announced the UK's new Space Industrial Plan during a keynote speech at the Space-Comm Expo, a collaborative civil defence initiative aimed at revitalising the relationship between the government and the commercial space sector.

The Space Industrial Plan establishes clear visions, missions and actions to unlock growth and develop resilient and sustainable space capabilities. In early April, the UK Space Agency announced that £13 million would be provided to boost international space projects so that the UK space sector can work directly with international private partners, which includes not only traditional aerospace companies but also startups, on exciting and innovative projects.

The UK's expertise in space technology and satellite manufacturing is already enviable in the global field, but the opportunity to work on space collaborations with private organisations from countries like the US, Australia, Canada, India and Singapore will only increase the commercial viability of the space sustainability market. With this, companies will also need a skilled workforce to support the growing market, including engineers, scientists and regulatory experts.

Dr. Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, recently said 'We want to draw on the best global talent to push the boundaries of new technology such as AI and space nuclear power, enhance our homegrown space capabilities and catalyse investment into the UK economy.' The latest Space Sector Skills Survey (2023) shows the rapid growth of employment in the sector. But the success in the sector has outpaced the employees available.

Further and wider than the space sector, we need to take bold measures to ensure that the planet remains habitable for future generations, and new climate policies and commitments are driving the increase in 'green' employment opportunities.

According to the Global Green Skills Report 2023, demand for green skills outstrips what the workforce can offer. At the current pace, demand for workers with green skills will surpass supply within five years, meaning there is an urgent need for our workforce to level up green skills.

In the effort to meet the demand, companies can use the UK immigration policies to harness talent from around the world to contribute to the UK's space industry as well as sustainable practices here on Earth and in space.

Unlocking growth potential through immigration

A previous blog available here discussed the potential hurdles of using the Skilled Worker visa route due to the recent changes in UK immigration, which introduced more stringent immigration rules for the route. However, as highlighted, there are several alternative unsponsored routes available to attract overseas talent into the sector and fill skills gaps to foster this continued innovation.

The benefits of utilising the global talent pool are significant and should not be overlooked. For example, attracting experts from diverse backgrounds to work in the UK's space industry offers the opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration and international partnerships, as well as cultural diversity and cross-education and training.

This greater collaboration could, in turn, further propel the UK's presence in the space industry and greatly expand the economy. This could be done while also contributing to the long-term benefits of the space sustainability market, including environmental protection, improved global communication, and advancements in scientific research.

Looking ahead

The commercial viability of the space sustainability market is underpinned by the government and the private sector working in collaboration.

Companies in the sector should aim to take proactive measures to attract talent and foster innovation in this dynamic and promising sector.

The role that immigration policies can play in supporting the growth of the UK's space industry should be an important consideration.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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