UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to introduce fast-track visas for the world’s top scientists, engineers and mathematicians as he announces a relaxation of his predecessor’s immigration controls.

In a departure from Theresa May’s numbers driven approach to non-EU migration, the new prime minister plans to abolish caps for individuals considered exceptionally talented in their field.

Mr Johnson has already dropped the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands – a target that has never been met.

Downing Street said the changes are designed to attract elite researchers and specialists in science, engineering and technology.

“Britain has a proud history of innovation, with home-grown inventions spanning from the humble bicycle to the lightbulb,” Mr Johnson said on a visit to the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire.

He added: “But to ensure we continue to lead the way in advancement of knowledge, we have to not only support the talent that we already have here, but also ensure our immigration system attracts the very best minds from around the world.”

Mr Johnson insists he is pro-immigration and wants to shake-up the system so Britain can attract the “brightest and best” to meet the needs of the economy while reassuring voters migration is kept under control.

He will now instruct the Home Office and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to work with the scientific community to develop the new fast-track visa route – expected to launch later this year.

The PM is expected to consult with leading universities, exploring measures such as abolishing the cap on Tier 1 exceptional talent visas that currently stands at 2,000.

Other options will include enduring dependents have full access to the labour market and removing the need to hold an offer of employment before arriving in the UK.  

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “Our new fast-track visa route will be a key part of this – encouraging the world’s top scientists and researchers to our shores.

“Those gifted minds will bolster the UK’s standing as a hub for science and innovation as we look to introduce a points-based immigration system centred on what people will contribute to our economy.”

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom added: “As we prepare to leave the EU on 31 October we will make sure we continue to attract the best talent, reflecting our commitment to making the UK a science powerhouse while creating jobs and growth across the whole country.”