The UK government's student immigration policy is bad for business and the economy

 
Seamus Nevin
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Britain already makes it difficult and artificially expensive for top students to enter and stay (Source: Getty) (Source: Getty)

Education, particularly higher education, is one of this country’s great success stories. Every year thousands of students come here to learn and along the way they become lifelong friends of Britain. Nonsensically, the government seem intent on making this whole process harder.

Under current rules most students can apply for a work visa while still living in the UK. New proposals, first announced by the secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, will add another layer of bureaucracy by forcing graduates, no matter how talented, to leave the country and re-apply for a visa before potentially returning.

Javid was launching a set of proposals aimed at helping the UK improve its lagging productivity but his plans to “break the link” between overseas students studying in the UK and finding employment here after they graduate have understandably met with a strong criticism from British businesses.

The business secretary’s rejection of employers’ calls to loosen the visa system for foreign students, despite experts saying that such a move would boost Britain’s lagging productivity, makes zero economic sense.

The UK education system should be a tool to import the world’s greatest minds and most importantly, to keep them here, so that it is our economy, not our competitors, that benefit.

Other countries welcome top students. Britain already makes it difficult and artificially expensive for them to enter and stay, and now these proposals would eject them ignominiously when their studies are finished.

International students are essential to the UK’s economy, contributing billions of pounds every year, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and helping fuel key economic sectors.

Students are drawn to the UK for good reason – our universities are among the best in the world, particularly for science and engineering. These are areas where there is already a shortage of available talent so the idea that rather than encouraging the best international talent to stay here we train them up and immediately kick them out is an abrupt departure from the government’s expressed claim to be “business friendly.”

Shutting the door to highly-trained international graduates will only hurt business and lead to a loss of important skills at a time when our economy needs them most.

Such crude immigration plans simply force the able minds we nurture to return home and create competition overseas. They will damage our education system, our economy and our global influence.

UK firms have done an excellent job to get our economy back on track after the collapse of 2008. If the productivity problem is to be fixed, Britain’s borders must remain open to the world’s best.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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