Last week, this newspaper ran a front page story warning that finance chiefs identify the skills gap as a bigger threat to our economy than a slowdown in China, cyber attacks or even a British exit from the EU.
Today, we feature the case of an international student with a first class degree in accountancy and finance reduced to standing in Canary Wharf station holding a “hire me” sign.
This is more than just an innovative method of getting an interview. For 22 year old Jessie Li, the stakes could not be higher.
Her student visa is about to expire and without a job offer she will be forced to leave the country and return to her native Hong Kong.
This column isn’t about to campaign on behalf of one graduate, however employable she may be, but the case is illustrative of a wider problem in the policy debate.
Is Jessie going to be shipped back home as part of the government’s efforts to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands?
The migration target has been lambasted, ridiculed and undermined in sensible debate time and time again.
Yet just as employers are struggling to find skilled employees, international graduates will be sacrificed on the altar of a migration target labelled “bizarre and unachievable” by the Institute of Directors, and “not fit for purpose” by the CBI.
Calls to remove international students from the government’s migration target have been growing for some time, and to these voices we can now add fresh incredulity as the Business Department (of all places) wants to force international students to leave the country upon graduating before reapplying for work in the UK.
The damage such an approach will cause to our productivity, our economy and our international reputation cannot be underestimated.
While other countries, such as Canada, go out of their way to encourage the global talent they’ve educated to stay in the country and contribute, the UK seems set on making the process bureaucratic, complex and borderline hostile.
The plight of international students, many of whom are highly trained and itching to work in the UK, sits alongside the ongoing difficulties firms face in hiring non-EU talent through the Tier 2 visa system.
Until sensible minds prevail, Jessie Li and thousands of others will suffer. What’s more, the British economy will suffer with them.