Thursday 2 May 2019 10:32 am

Want Britain to retain its entrepreneurial crown? Bring back the post-study visa

Parliament is taking back control – and not just of Brexit.

Conservative MP Jo Johnson and Labour MP Paul Blomfield have bridged the aisle to introduce an amendment to the Immigration Bill.

The primary aim is to ensure that the number of international students cannot be capped by the government in order to comply with the net migration target without parliamentary approval. But it also calls for the restoration of the two-year post-study work visa for international graduates.

Before this visa was scrapped in 2012, international students were able to stay for two years following graduation.

Now, graduates are turfed out before they have time to test out the job market, build a network of contacts, or get to grips with what they want to do next – whether that’s convincing an employer to sponsor them, returning to academia, or applying for the new startup visa.

It turns out that there are lots of wannabe entrepreneurs in our international student population. A survey of international students we undertook with the NUS revealed that 42 per cent intend to start their own business following graduation.

In Silicon Valley, over half of all engineering and technology companies have at least one foreign-born founder, with the majority initially moving to the US to study, not work. But entrepreneurs need time to do the market research, develop key contacts, and spot an opportunity before taking the leap.

A proper post-study work visa would give international graduates the necessary time to know whether they could be Britain’s next great immigrant founder.

International students contribute massively to the UK’s public finances. As the Migration Advisory Committee – the independent, non-departmental public body that advises the government on migration issues – concluded in its recent report, the average non-EEA student delivers a net fiscal return for the country of over £5,000 a year in excess of native residents.

Through its industrial strategy, the government is focused on building upon our comparative advantage in key industries. We have many of the world’s best universities, but we’re stymieing them by restricting the income they can bring in from foreign students and their ability to attract the very best and brightest – many of whom would stay within academia to maintain their reputations for cutting-edge research.

As a result of our misguided immigration policies, we are now less attractive for international students than Australia, Canada, or even the US. That has long-term consequences. Britain used to be top in terms of the number of world leaders who passed through our universities. Last year, we were knocked off the top spot by the US.

Public opinion has shifted noticeably in favour of immigration since the Brexit vote and Windrush scandal. Increased fees, unnecessary regulations, unlawful expulsions, and anti-immigrant rhetoric have plagued immigration policy and practice for too long, in pursuit of an elusive net target that few MPs – apart from the Prime Minister – actually believe in.

Reinstating the post-study visa would help reverse this damaging trend. MPs from all parties, universities, businesses, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem should get behind this critical amendment.

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.