There has been a concerted effort recently from Scottish political parties to see the reintroduction of the post-study work visa which was abolished by the UK government in 2012. This plan for a reintroduction forms part of wider group of changes being sought by the Smith commission as part of wider devolution of powers to the Scottish government following the fraught independence referendum of 2014, and the key part is that under current visa laws international students can only stay in the country for four months after graduating, rather than the two years it had been previously.
Let us not forget also that four months was a number reached through not inconsiderable consternation and debate; Theresa May, Lizard Queen of Westminster, had wanted to scrap any grace period whatsoever. Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that she had this particular error in judgement blocked by none other than our own stoic and just advocate of student rights: Gideon “have you ever seen him blink?” Osborne. Rumour has it that shortly afterwards pigs were seen sprouting wings in Gloucestershire and the devil ice skated to work.
The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been an outspoken supporter of the reintroduction of post-study visas, describing her anger and disappointment that there were no plans from the UK’s government to reintroduce this visa and it is little wonder that the problems of these visas are being most loudly criticised north of the border.
Post-study immigration is a key part of the Scottish economy especially in swiftly expanding sectors such as technology and IT (indeed thank god something is expanding in Britain other than national debt and cases of bigotry). These sectors have already been hit by skill shortages; latest estimates stand at there being the need for 10,000 new workers to sustain its current growth. That’s more people than study in total at St Andrews, which is (as we are constantly reminded by the university itself) ‘the best university in Scotland’. Surely it could only benefit the economy of Scotland to allow international graduates to stay in the country and contribute to it.
25 per cent of job vacancies are the result of ‘skill shortages’, up from 15 per cent in 2011, before the visa changes. In a jobs market about as easy to navigate as the Bermuda triangle in a thunderstorm and with only one wing perhaps these apparently open places could be filled. It must be a relatively popular route for people; after all Scotland is the home of square sausages, thistles and gingers, who wouldn’t want to stay here? It’s even sunny for five days every year. It’s not just individual sectors which are crying out for help, the small and medium sized businesses (which constitute 99 per cent of Scottish businesses) can often not afford the sponsorship scheme which can enable students to stay longer than the stated four months, probably being the main reason behind why 85 per cent of employers backed calls for a return to our collective senses.
Hilariously, should gallows humour be to your fancy, it was recently decided that this particular cart simply wasn’t going downhill fast enough, so it got the kick it needed by adding the intention to change the Tier-2 visa salary cut-off point to £35,000 instead of £20,000, as well as the introduction of an immigration skills charge. This charge doesn’t seem to mean anything but is instead a cunningly created extra charge meaning that the amount of money which a small business would have to spend on an employee who has studied perhaps half an hour away, contributed to the local economy for four years, fits the vacancy for a skilled job which they presumably were given on merit but just HAPPENED to be born outside of the EU is just under £40,000, which is not sustainable for a small business or as a starting salary for somebody only just joining a company. Yet it is these companies which have the vacancies which need filling.
It is not just in Scotland that the visa should be reintroduced. That should be across the entirety of the United Kingdom. But the problem is that the idea of the post-study work visa seems to be getting lumped into the wider immigration shitshow and as such is being treated in some corners as tantamount to actually pissing on Winston Churchill’s grave. Seriously, look at the comment sections on any story about this visa. My favourite was NODROG1234 who told us ‘British culture is disappearing fast, because we Brits are ignored, we feel like second class citizens in our own country. This has brought us to the stage that we just don’t care anymore. Never in my livetime [sic] have I witnessed such a malaise in my once great country. The only happy one [sic] are the immigrants and illegals who know they can make a fortune out of the british [sic], this included wiping out all culture’, presumably then going on to shout at the nearest American or Australian banker for being a horrid immigrant who paid about £80,000 into the system to study and stay in NODROG1234’s ‘once great’ country, all the while paying taxes, supporting businesses around them and generally contributing to society. The selfish, thieving bastard.
I will not, because it is like repeatedly mashing your head into a brick wall (like wot we should have bilt round Dover [sic]), when one wades into the mire of the wider immigration problems, but this visa is a completely different situation. Silicon Valley was built around using the universities of Stanford, CalTech and Berkley and their standout international students alongside the standout ‘homegrown’ students to create the biggest hub of technology to be found anywhere, a hub which has given America a huge boost economically.
There is no problem with utilizing minds which you have spent man hours moulding to your benefit by giving them jobs and careers in the United Kingdom. But this can only be done if you give them the opportunity to stay on. It is wider than this also, and considerably closer to home for us than it is for people at other universities.
At a university as proudly international as our own, these changes to the work visa will probably be affecting many of the people you know currently. Almost all of us have friends who hail from shores different to our own, and a restriction of time on them trying to find a job in the United Kingdom makes it feel as though international students are not properly welcome in the country, or are simply being used as cash cows to help fund our universities.
Our own Rector Catherine Stihler MEP said that ‘if these students have fears about having their new lives taken away they may choose not to come in the first place. We cannot allow this to happen’, something which would affect our own university more than almost any other, standing currently at 38 per cent. It is part of the unique culture at this establishment than you can start your night drinking Ouzo with a Cypriot and end it sobbing into a Dervish bought for you by a kindly passing Japanese. Part of this brilliant diversity which makes the fabric of our university is in danger of being unravelled.
This is not something which should only matter to you if you are an international student planning on staying in the UK, it matters to us all. This is not a problem of ‘Britain is full’. This is simply a question of choice. Any person who has spent four years pouring their time, effort and money into their studies here should be afforded the option of being able to stay and make the most of what we can offer, and help make Britain a better place. God knows we need all the help we can get. The opportunity presents itself best once studies have finished. Four months is not enough time for most of us to get a job once we leave university, so why should there be greater rush and pressure on international students?
There is a problem, but it is not international students filling the skilled jobs vacancies. The problem is that we now almost seem to be making an effort to drive away the very intelligent, knowledgeable and skilled people which we are creating here, and with whom we share our streets.