4 September 2018

A study in poor policy – Britain’s visa regime needs an urgent reboot


Another day, another plea against one of the least defensible aspects of our immigration system.

This time it’s Universities UK asking the Government to reverse the decision in 2012 to scrap the post-study work visa for non-EU graduates.

Bear in mind that that decision was based on an entirely false idea of the system being “abused” by people who overstayed their visas. What was once claimed as 100,000 overstayers turned out to be fewer than 5,000.

The same rationale was behind then Home Secretary Theresa May’s insistence that students be counted in the overall immigration target – a furrow she has obstinately furrowed despite the objections of most of her colleagues and the British public. As I’ve written elsewhere on CapX, her wilfully counterproductive approach seems to characterise all the British state’s dealings with non-EU citizens.

Out of an imaginary problem the Government has succeeded in creating a real one. The number of international students coming here is stalling at the same time as the likes of Australia and the US are welcoming ever more with open arms. As the Financial Times notes, the problem is particularly acute with India:

The loss of the right to post-graduation work is one of the factors blamed for a big fall-off in the number of Indian students studying in the UK. In the 2010-11 academic year, 23,970 Indian students started courses at UK universities, while the figure for 2016-17 was 9,720.

And who can blame them, when the US, Canada and Australia all offer much less restrictive post-study visa options.

It’s another classic example of the cognitive dissonance behind so much of what this government does — simultaneously claiming to champion Global Britain, while persisting with a system that actively discourages people across the globe from contributing to our economy.

Perhaps barmiest of all is that restricting student migration isn’t even popular with voters, which is the usual justification politicians give for a restrictive approach to immigration.

Here’s what the latest ComRes polling had to say on the subject:

The public is much more likely to say that international students should be able to use their skills here and work in the UK for a period of time in order to contribute to the economy, rather than returning immediately to their home country after completing their study (74 per cent vs 26 per cent). The new poll, based on the views of more than 4,000 British adults, reveals also that in relation to the UK government’s immigration policy, only a quarter (25 per cent) of British adults say that they view international students coming to study at UK universities as immigrants.

May herself is too committed to her hard line on the issue — and too distracted by Brexit — to do anything about this anomaly. But, given a proven independent streak in his short time in the job, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest Home Secretary Sajid Javid could choose to act. Were he to succeed, our universities, businesses and voters would thank him for it.

John Ashmore is Deputy Editor of CapX