Immigration policy needs to be devolved

The SNP recently announced it wants powers regarding immigration devolved to Scotland, to enable re-introducing the post-study work visa. It is an exciting development for many international students, and contrasts starkly with the recent policies propagated by the Westminster government.

The Post-Study Work Visa, introduced in 2008 by Labour, enabled international students to work in the UK upon completion of their degree for up to two years before applying for a work permit. This was actually regulation by Labour rather than de-regulation; the previous system enabled students to apply for work permits under more relaxed criteria. The government decommissioned this visa in 2012 as a step in tackling immigration. As a result, international students have a specific time-frame to find a job with a minimum salary of £21,000 per annum, and students’ employers must go through an arduous ‘sponsorship’ process. The result is that international students struggle to stay and find work.

Post-degree celebrations are marred by the melancholy of leaving your adopted country. I lost four very good friends this summer who all tried, and failed, to find a job that would allow them to remain in the UK. This is common. It is also partly why the ‘Yes’ campaign captured the support of many international students – the stark difference between a new Scotland’s immigration plans, and the plans down south. The vote dictated my chances of calling Scotland home or not. The current laws are detrimental to all involved. Principals of universities hate it because of its effect on recruitment. Businesses hate it since it adds a massive layer of bureaucracy when recruiting workers. The laws have also had no positive impact in jobs available to British workers; a glance at the unemployment and the inequality figures show it all. There is also the social impact of bringing in hundreds of thousands of international students into the country every year, who inject millions of pounds into the economy, and then telling them they’re unwelcome.

The conversations about immigration over the past two years have meant this policy is off the table as far as the Conservatives are concerned. Labour’s current offering – removing international students from migration figures – is a cynical move to make migration figures look better, demonstrating how tough they are being on ‘them foreigners.’ Labour cannot be trusted with this issue. They implemented this visa as immigration control in 2008, and Ed Miliband’s recent immigration rhetoric confirms there is no progressive Labour offer on immigration. At this point, hope is not emanating from Westminster. Enter the SNP’s latest proposal to the devolution commission, backed by the Greens, to reintroduce post-study work visas. It affects 40% of our student body in Edinburgh, which equates to about 8,000 students, currently on the Tier 4 visa. This is promising for a prospect that we thought was lost.

Do not get me wrong – I am of the belief that immigration would be the last power devolved by the Smith Commission. There has been enough scaremongering to try and make devolved immigration unfeasible. However, this proposal, at a time of widespread immigration scaremongering, gives hope to students, and recognises their current constraints. For our student populace currently on the Tier 4 system, it is nigh on impossible for them to stay in the UK. I cannot think of a better policy for them to get behind.

 

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