The UK Government has rejected calls for a more flexible post-study work visa system for international students in Scotland.
A House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry concluded in February that the removal in 2012 of a scheme that allowed overseas graduates to work for two years after completing their studies had made Scotland a less attractive destination to study.
The committee’s report cited an 80% drop in non-EU students remaining in the UK after graduating and said change was necessary to address demographic challenges north of the border and fill skills gaps in areas including health and finance.
In a response published by Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill, the UK Government said the four current visa categories available to non-European Economic Area (EEA) graduates of UK universities “comprise an excellent post-study work offer”.
The government said the previous system had been subject to “widespread abuse” which 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,” it said.
The Government also noted that visa applications from international students to study at Scottish universities had increased by 10% since 2010.
“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,” it concluded.
“We have taken important steps to reform the student migration system and we have no plans to re-introduce 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.”
A pilot is taking place at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Imperial College London to simplify the visa application process for Masters students and grant them an additional six months leave to remain after the end of the course to find a graduate job under Tier 2 visa rules.
The government said: “The institutions taking part in the pilot were chosen due to their consistently low level of visa refusals.
“Should the pilot be a success, the Home Office will be considering expansion of the pilot further, including to highly-compliant institutions in Scotland.”
SNP MP Pete Wishart, who chairs the Scottish Affairs Committee, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the response.
He 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.”
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