No need to reform student visas in Scotland, insists immigration minister

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Credit: Maurice from Zoetermeer, Netherlands via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

Calls for a more flexible post-study work visa system for international students studying in Scotland have been rejected by the UK Government.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill insisted the four current visa categories available to non-European Economic Area (EEA) graduates of UK universities already “comprise an excellent post-study work offer”.

In 2012, a scheme that enabled overseas students to stay and work for two years after finishing their degree was ditched by the UK Government.

An inquiry by the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster found earlier this year that the abolition of the scheme had made Scotland a less attractive destination for international students.

There has been an 80% drop in non-EU students remaining in the UK post-graduation since the scheme ended.

The committee insists change is needed to fill skills gaps in Scotland in sectors like healthcare and finance.

The UK Government claim the previous system had seen “widespread abuse”, adding it had “damaged the reputation of our education system”.

“This was supported by evidence that the availability of the tier 1 (post study work) category gave rise to a cohort of migrants who, to a significant degree, were unemployed or engaged in unskilled work and was likely to seek to abuse the immigration system in order to prolong their stay,” a report published by Mr Goodwill said.

It also pointed out that visa applications from overseas students to study at Scottish institutions had risen by 10% since 2010.

The report concluded: “Applying different immigration rules to different parts of the UK would complicate the immigration system, harming its integrity, and cause difficulties for employers with a presence in more than one part of the UK.

“We have taken important steps to reform the student migration system and we have no plans to reintroduce a post-study work scheme that does not lead to skilled work and could reintroduce many or all of the issues we saw under the former tier 1 (post study work) category.”

The Government is carrying out a pilot at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Imperial College London which simplifies the visa application process for Masters students and grants them an extra six months leave to stay in the country and find a graduate job.

In August, Scottish ministers urged the UK Government to include Scottish universities in the pilot without success.

The Home Office say it will consider expanding the pilot to include “highly-compliant” Scottish universities should it prove workable.

Scottish Affairs Committee chairman, SNP MP Pete Wishart, said: “Despite the almost universal support for improving post-study work schemes in Scotland, we are still to see these factors have any influence on the direction of policy.

“We reiterate our call for the UK Government to engage constructively with Scottish higher education institutions on this issue.

“The Government must also speak to employers about the struggles they have in recruiting for key sectors.

“They must work with their Scottish counterparts to explore formal schemes that would allow those who come here to study to stay and contribute to the economy.

“The calls from Scotland are overwhelming, it is time for the UK Government to listen.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd unveiled plans at the recent Tory party conference for a new two-tier visa system for international students, which would target poorer universities and the courses that they offer.

Rudd suggested “tougher rules” for international students who are studying “lower quality courses” at universities in the UK.

The University of Stirling has warned that any new visa system “must reflect the diversity of institutions across the UK and recognise the enormous contribution international students make to our universities”.

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