Understanding barriers to international mobility for researchers

Room with moving boxes and luggage

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Many researchers, whether in academia or the private sector, and from Ph.D. students onwards, travel or move around the world for work. Factors such as funding or visas can both support and hinder a researcher’s ability to do so.

The Together Science Can campaign wants to gain a better understanding of researchers’ experiences of travelling for work and how that varies internationally. The Wellcome Trust and partner organisations created Together Science Can to celebrate and protect scientific collaboration.


Together Science Can asked RAND Europe to conduct a survey of researchers to collect their views on travelling for research. The goal was to develop a robust evidence base on mobility (understood as international travel and relocation) in science — including the factors that influence it (positively or negatively) and the outcomes it can help achieve.

The results will be used by Together Science Can to try to address some of the possible barriers to international travel and promote some of the opportunities and benefits so researchers can work together better in the future.


RAND Europe conducted an online survey that asked researchers about their travel patterns, enablers and obstacles they had experienced, and the perceived outcomes of their international movement. Questions covered both relocation and shorter-term travel.

The survey covers 2,465 respondents from 109 countries (where the number of countries is based on the respondents’ first reported nationality). The survey was open for one month and designed to take less than 10 minutes to complete using mostly multiple choice questions and two free-text responses.


  1. Three quarters of survey respondents have moved to live in another country for research purposes.
  2. Career progression and international movement are correlated.
  3. Students or those training to be researchers are the least likely to visit other countries for research purposes.
  4. Europe is a particularly mobile and connected research community.
  5. Respondents raised concerns about the effects of political developments, including the UK’s decision to leave the EU and changes in the US political climate.
  6. International travel and relocation are costly, and financial support is an important enabler of international movement.
  7. African and Asian researchers are more likely to receive support from a funder than from their institution.
  8. Visa requirements do not prevent most researchers from travelling, but visa applications can be prohibitively time consuming, complex and costly.
  9. Researchers from Asia and Africa are much more likely to have visa-related challenges, particularly for short-term visits.
  10. Family-related challenges are the most frequently cited obstacle to international relocation.
  11. African researchers and those who have not moved previously are more likely to cite lack of information about jobs abroad as an obstacle to movement.
  12. Many internationally mobile researchers have not faced travel obstacles; European researchers reported the fewest obstacles to travel, while African researchers reported the most.
  13. International movement can have negative outcomes for individuals.
  14. Nearly all researchers — whether they have experienced international movement or not – believe that international movement is important for research.
  15. Researchers of all nationalities stated that international movement boosts research outcomes by forging new collaborations and developing ideas, skills and expertise.