EUSA sponsors petition for university action on visas

Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) have sponsored a petition calling for greater university support for post-study work visas for international students.

The petition, drafted by International Students Group Convener Constantine Ivanis and directed at the University of Edinburgh, asks for a stronger institutional stance on the reinstatement of university-sponsored work visas for non-EU international graduates.

Under current regulations, known as the Tier 2 Visa scheme, international students have several months after graduating to find secure employment before their student visa arrangements expire.  If work is not found in time, graduates are forced to return to their home countries, a disruption that often complicates their desired career paths.

The graduates are subject to additional restrictions on the nature of employment they must secure: the job must be “graduate-level” and carry a minimum starting salary of £20,500, a target that many students feel is unrealistic and prohibitive, particularly within the Scottish job market.

“The fact is you’d have to to go to London to meet the minimum salary arrangements for the UK,” Ivanis, the petition author, told The Student.

This is frustrating for graduates because it really puts significant pressure on them,” he added.

Ivanis’s petition calls on the university to take bolder action against this policy by leveraging its position within the Russell Group and Universities UK and making public statements in favour of more supportive post-study visa schemes.

Proponents of reform look to an earlier arrangement where foreign graduates of Scottish universities had two years to seek employment within Scotland.  The programme, known as the Fresh Talent Initiative, received tacit support from the Home Office for four years until it was scuttled with the introduction of the point-based immigration scheme in 2008.

Advocates believe that a revival of that arrangement would be desirable not only for international students, but for the Scottish economy as a whole.

“It’s very easy to make the point that having these trained international students that you invest in, that come here for education and build roots, is going to help the economy rather than hinder it,” Dash Sekhar, Vice President for Academic Affairs and a proponent of the petition told The Student.

With around 500 signatures at press time, the petition has garnered support from many corners of the student community.

In a message on the petition page, third year Jonny Ross-Tatam said: “People who our education system has nurtured and made into successful human beings should be able to stay here. End of.”

PhD student Stephanie Arnason expressed first hand frustration with the visa process as a Canadian, concluding: “These are policies from an outdated xenophobic discourse that destroys pocket books as well as goodwill, diversity, and opportunities for international collaboration.”

Current university rector Peter McColl also expressed solidarity with the effort.

He told The Student: “The UK government has a bone-headed obsession with stopping international students coming here, and that needs to stop.”

He continued: “The more we talk about the issue, the more likely it is that we get a solution. That’s why I support this petition.”

In response to the petition, a university spokesman maintained the university’s commitment to the issue and told The Student that the university is “currently involved in discussions with government on a number of post study work issues.”

The petitioners counter that more could be done.

“The university has an internationalisation plan, they want to bring more international students here to study, but the fact that they’re not speaking up against these policies hurts them,” Ivanis told The Student.

In response to queries from The Student, a university spokesperson said: “The University responds to all Home Office consultations on policy matters that directly affect students. We do so both as an individual institution and collectively with other partners in the UK higher education sector and are currently involved in discussions with government on a number of post study work issues.

“We believe that the opportunity to consolidate an academic qualification through suitable post-study work is one that should be open to graduates from UK universities.”

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The Student Newspaper 2016