Speaking at the Re-imagining the University conference in Edinburgh on October 9, Scottish education minister Michael Russell called for the reimplementation of post-study work visas in Scotland.
The minister criticised the UK policy, implemented in 2012, whereby these visas were abolished, removing the opportunity for many international students to stay in Scotland for work after graduation.
Addressing the conference, Russell said: “The lifeblood of universities is the free exchange of scholars and students, and if that is impeded by the immigration system, which it is, then you are cutting off something exceptionally important.”
After the abolition of the post-study work visa, the number of new entrants to Scottish universities from India decreased by 58 per cent, from Pakistan by 38 per cent and from Nigeria by 22 per cent.
In its submission to the Smith Commission, the body tasked with drafting proposals for increased devolution of governmental power to Holyrood, the Scottish National Party (SNP) voiced concerns over the decreasing number of foreign applicants to Scottish universities.
The SNP argued that abolition of the post-study work visa played a significant role in the decrease seen in recent years.
Earlier this year Pete Wishart MP, SNP home affairs spokesperson, stated: “Scotland needs an immigration policy which suits our economic needs, and keeps up with the likes of Canada, Australia, Germany and New Zealand who all have explicit strategies to bring in talent to the benefit of their economies.
“The UK government’s immigration policy is detrimental to the needs of Scotland and has come under fire from our universities as our numbers of international students have dropped.”
In 2005 Scotland set up the Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme (FTWiSS) with the purpose of bridging the gap between study and work for fresh graduates.
Through this scheme, overseas graduates who were interested in living and working in Scotland were allowed to stay on for a two-year period to look for employment.
Despite its success, the scheme was short-lived.
The same year that the scheme was implemented a spokeswoman from Universities UK, the lobbying group for higher education commented that: “It is incredibly positive from a Scottish perspective. But we would like some of it too.”
FTWiSS came under heavy criticism from English universities that claimed that the scheme was a way of favouring Scotland over other parts of the UK and as such, went against EU competition law.
This opinion resonated with British officials as in 2008, with the introduction of a new point-based visa system, FTWiSS was subsumed by the UK immigration system.
Speaking to The Student, Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Vice President Academic Affairs (VPAA) Dash Sekhar said: “We welcome any re-introduction of the post-study work visa.
“Since 40 per cent of our student populace are currently on the Tier 4 visa, we welcome the opportunity to give these students a chance to find work and settle in their country of study again.
“Devolving immigration to Scotland is one route, and we hope the parties in Westminster would propose a similar provision country-wide.”