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Work Visas

Volume 617: debated on Monday 14 November 2016

18. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on reintroduction of the post-study work visa. (907238)

The UK has an excellent offer for overseas students who graduate here. They can remain in the UK to work following their studies by switching to several existing visa routes, including tier 2 skilled worker visas. Visa applications from students to study at Scottish universities have increased by 10% since 2010, and the most recent year, to June 2016, showed a continued year-on-year increase.

The truth is that the options open to students for staying on after their studies are a second-rate substitute for a proper post-study work visa along the lines of what the UK once had and what our competitor countries still have. As Scotland seeks to continue sustainable levels of population growth, will the Minister listen to the coalition of universities, students and businesses and champion a proper post-study work visa for the UK?

We have a competitive post-study work visa. That is reflected in the fact that applications to our universities continue to rise and are up 14% since 2010. We continue to look for opportunities to support high quality institutions wherever they are in the country to recruit genuine students.

When will the Government publish a detailed impact analysis of the academic and recruitment impact on Scotland’s universities of abandoning post-study work visas?

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this issue many times in Bill Committee in recent weeks. I point him to my earlier answer, which is that Scottish institutions continue to see year-on-year growth in the number of overseas applicants, which has increased by 10% since 2010, and we continue to look for opportunities to support them in recruiting genuine students.

The Universities Minister is known for his affinity with India. When the post-study work visas were removed in Scotland, the number of Indian students at Scottish universities fell by two thirds. Would the Minister please consider including a Scottish university in the pilot scheme for the new post-study work visa?

Yes, it was a successful visit by the Prime Minister to India last week, during which we were able to reiterate the long-standing Government policy that there is no limit to the number of genuine international students who are welcome to come and study at our world-class universities, and no limit to the number who can switch into work with a graduate job once they have finished their studies.

The perception is that we are not encouraging students from abroad to come here to study and then to work. I am encouraged by what my hon. Friend has said about switching visas. We do not want to turn our backs on the bright young people from China, India and all over the world who would come to study and then, hopefully, work for a period. Who knows, when my hon. Friend gets to talk to his opposite number in the new Trump Administration, he might talk about encouraging young American students to come here to study and work.

We certainly are not turning our back on genuine international students. We welcome them warmly. There are no limits on the number who can come here and no limit on the number who can switch into work after they finish their studies. We want to see more in the years ahead and we look forward to supporting our high quality institutions in recruiting successfully in countries such as the ones my hon. Friend mentioned.

The Minister must know what is going on in the universities. They are in turmoil about the future of demand from foreign students to come here. Has he seen what the vice-chancellor of Sheffield University said about the Prime Minister’s visit to India? Why are students still classed as immigrants when they come here merely to study?

I advise hon. Members to send out a positive message about how welcoming we are in this country. When we look at the statistics, we see that international students are still coming here in record numbers. Visa applications from non-EU international students to study at British universities are up by 14% since 2010, so let us not paint a completely misleading picture of what is going on. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sheffield, which is a Russell Group institution. Numbers are up 39% at Russell Group institutions since 2010.

The Minister is somewhat missing the point, which is that we want these international students to stay afterwards so that they can provide economic levers. We watched with interest when the pilot of the post-study work visa was introduced at four institutions in England. I have written to the Minister about extending that pilot to Scotland, but I have yet to get a response. Perhaps he can tell me now when we can expect to see the pilot of the post-study work visa extended to Scotland.

The Home Office is conducting a successful pilot. It is under way with four institutions—Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and Bath. This is a Home Office responsibility and I encourage the hon. Lady to direct her questions there.

The Home Secretary told the Conservative party conference that a consultation would look

“at whether our student immigration rules should be tailored to the quality of the course and the quality of the educational institution”.

Edinburgh University is currently ranked 27th in the Times Higher Education world rankings and Glasgow 88th, both significantly higher than Bath, which, although 200 places lower, was included in the pilot. Perhaps the Minister can explain to the Scottish higher education sector why it has been deliberately snubbed.

The Home Secretary has announced that there will be a consultation that will look into non-EU work and study immigration routes. This will include consideration of what more we can do to strengthen the system so that institutions that stick to the rules can do more to attract the best talent.