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Immigration rules and after study Visas: Why the fears are unwarranted by Robert Janeiro

by on April 13, 2012

Since the coalition government came to power one of the few policies that haven’t divided either side is immigration, and need to reduce the number of people coming into Britain. Yet, for the last two thousand years Britain has experienced great swathes of migrants from Romans, to Normans, the Vikings to the more contemporary, Polish, Indian and Somalia communities that have joined Britain’s ranks. Changes in the demographic are inevitable and historical.

However, with the economic situation at present it is quite right the UK government restricts the number of after study visas that are being awarded. This policy is neither xenophobic nor nationalist – it is pragmatic. After all with nearly one million 16-24 year olds without work, employers should hold preference to UK and EU nationals before everyone else at this time; it doesn’t make sense to have a UK citizen on benefits whilst someone of another nationality takes a job that a N.E.E.T could be trained to do.

Furthermore, whilst the UK government states that a VISA will only be awarded should a ‘recognised employer’ offer a position, the long term difference this will make should be thought about. In effect, by offering a UK based job to a foreign national this will mean a UK graduate or student will have wait for that ‘lucky break’ and keep knocking on the door. Say (hypothetically), that UK graduate works a part-time job in a supermarket and then gets an offer of employment with a ‘recognised employer’ full-time. Under such basis that part-time role becomes open to someone else from the UK/ EU to take on. This has a positive economic effect on the economy as the UK’s unemployment decreases, productivity increases, liabilities in the form of benefit decreases and perhaps most importantly, the UK/EU graduate gains vital skills from employment that will ensure competitiveness in the future. I have a friend who is exactly this situation and is waiting to finish off his medical training but cannot as there are no spaces available and yet foreign students are able to undertake the training. He presently works as a Hospital porter – surely someone else could fill that role if he was training to be the doctor he wants to be?

However, not everyone sees this as a positive step. For example, leading UK universities have voiced their angst at the potential loss of custom from international students wishing to study in the UK at leading institutions. In addition, Universities are fearful that such policies will mean that the UK loses out on the best and brightest students and that this benefits universities in other countries. I disagree with the entirety of this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, universities have become global brands projecting students’ academia, intelligence and ability to employers. Consequentially, the world’s largest MNCs seek the best and brightest for their ranks, and students wishing to study at leading UK universities are well aware of the net positive impact that a UK institution will have on their future employment prospects. Secondly, if foreign students are deterred from studying in the UK that will mean more UK/EU students will be able to study at top universities as additional places will be available. This can only be a positive thing for their (UK/EU) future employment prospects; most UK universities have far more applicants than places. Thirdly, given the research strengths of UK universities, the international standings they hold, and the global economy in which we are all part of, more UK/EU students studying at leading universities will be a positive thing for the UK economy as they go onto work in a global marketplace. It may be the difference between working solely in the UK or whether opportunities abroad arise because of where the student has studied.

In essence, the arguments of UK universities are unproven and unjustified, as the UK government will still award study VISAs with no leave to remain attached, so this doesn’t stop foreign students studying in the UK. If anything, one could argue that UK universities are far more worried about their balance sheets due to the revenue that is made from International students than they are able the employability of UK/EU students. This is a grave shame and shouldn’t be the case. After all, there are many very clever graduates out there with 2:1s and firsts who cannot find a job – let’s help them first.

In fact, it should be noted that as foreign direct investment from emerging market countries increases (India, China and Brazil to name a few), UK registered companies will need UK graduates to be educated, competitive and at the height of world leading research if UK based companies are to compete going forward. One such example of this is the company Dyson whose founder, Sir James Dyson recently stated that he required more UK engineering graduates if his company was to remain in the UK. Further with Europe forecast to be the only area of the world with negative growth for the next twelve months Universities need to think longingly about whether they are fighting the right cause in this instance.


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