Scottish trade envoy urges Westminster to reopen student visa scheme

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THE First Minister’s newly appointed trade envoy to Indonesia has called for the re-instatement of a visa scheme which allowed overseas students to work in Scotland and other parts of the UK for two years after graduation.

In his first interview since taking up the voluntary post in November businessman Ainsley Mann was critical of Theresa May’s decision to end the initiative in 2012 and urged the UK Government to bring it back.

“I would hope the UK Government will go back on the policy to prevent overseas graduates from staying on to work here. It is one of the most ill-thought out decisions I have come across,” he told The National.

“Think about it, if a overseas student is allowed to stay on for a couple of years and work in Scottish business and has aspirations to work overseas, that business can benefit and that benefit has been taken away.”

Mann, who was appointed by Nicola Sturgeon as one of four new trade envoys, said he had raised the issue with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox at the meeting of the British Chamber of Commerce but did not get a clear response.

“I specifically asked why we are not allowing overseas students to continue to work in Scotland post graduation, particularly if they can go into industries that have an international horizon and with companies looking to go overseas,” he added.

“It makes absolutely no sense and if they were to loosen [the restrictions] it would certainly benefit Scottish businesses. If you are a Scottish technology business and you are thinking of doing business in south east Asia, it would be helpful to have a graduate from that country who can work for the business in Scotland, get the training, know how the company operates before they go back home where they can help get the business established there.

“The policy would help build up a knowledge base about the company in, say Indonesia, and that knowledge base would be made up of people who are emphatic to Scotland.”

May axed the policy saying it was being exploited, but Mann said there measures that could be put in place to address any issues of overstaying, such as fines against employers.

He added: “Stopping the scheme is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Maybe a small number of students overstay, but typically the vast majority don’t. We are training people up here and they have to leave immediately – so what benefit are we getting?”

He said the scheme had helped Scottish universities by attracting more Indonesia students whose fees helped fund the institutions.

Four years after post study work visas were axed by May when she was Home Secretary, the Home Office launched a two-year pilot easing visa rules for those applying to master’s courses at the University of Bath, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and Imperial College London.

Earlier this month Glasgow and Edinburgh universities were added to the pilot when it was extended.

At the time, the SNP said the extension did not “go anywhere near far enough”. The party’s immigration spokesman Stuart McDonald called on the UK Government to reinstate visa scheme, for both undergraduate and postgraduate international students, and “devolve immigration powers to enable the Scottish Government to build a system that works for Scotland”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “This Government recognises the cultural and financial contribution which international students make to the UK. This is why there is no limit on the number of genuine international students which educational institutions can recruit. We have excellent post study work opportunities. Graduates can stay if they get a graduate-level job, get an internship or become a Graduate Entrepreneur.

“We allow completing PhD students to stay for an additional year to gain work experience or set up as an entrepreneur. The Government has also extended a new pilot making it easier for international Masters students wanting to study and work in the UK to an additional 23 universities, including the University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow.

“This Government has no plans to reintroduce the Post-Study Work route, which saw large numbers of fraudulent applications and graduates who remained unemployed or in low-skilled work.”

Source: The National

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