In a bid to stave off the outflow of much-needed talent from Scotland, its government has been pushing to bring back the post-study visa for international students.

The visa was part of what made the UK so attractive to foreign students as a study destination, as it allowed graduates to remain in the UK and work for two years after completing their studies.

However, in 2012, the UK government decided to get rid of it after the Home Office said that the system had been open to widespread abuse, including fraudulent applications and graduates who stayed in the UK but remained unemployed or in low-skilled work.

Earlier this year, an inquiry by the Scottish Affairs Committee concluded that scrapping the visa had made Scotland a less attractive destination to study.

The committee’s report found that the number of non-EU students remaining in the UK dropped by 80 percent after the visa was abolished.

Under the current visa system, international students only have four months to find a job that reach a minimum annual salary of £20,800 (US$25,440).

Many graduates are unable to find jobs within Scotland that can fulfil that requirement, leading to what the University of Edinburgh has called “a ‘brain drain’ of highly skilled global talent”.

The committee said the minimum threshold was “not reflective of graduate salaries in Scotland”, concluding that the system must change to help fill skills shortages in sectors like health and finance.

In an official response to the calls, UK Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said: “Applying different immigration rules to different parts of the UK would complicate the immigration system, harming its integrity, and cause difficulties for employers with a presence in more than one part of the UK.”

He added that the four visa categories now available to non-European Economic Area (EEA) graduates of UK universities “comprise an excellent post-study work offer”.

In a comment to The Courier, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) criticised the decision, calling it “a major disservice” to Scotland.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of SCC, said: “At a time when the Scottish economy is facing serious challenges in the shape of a low growth rate and high levels of skills shortages, all in the face of a redefinition of our relationship with the European Union, it simply beggars belief that the UK Government is closing the door on an opportunity for talented international people to contribute to our economy.”

However, Goodwill has agreed to meet with Scotland’s International Development Minister Alasdair Allan to discuss a more flexible system for foreign students looking to work in the country after graduation.

The Home Office is presently running a pilot visa scheme at four English universities that allows Masters students to stay in the UK for an additional six months to find a graduate job under Tier 2 visa rules.

“Should the pilot be a success, the Home Office will be considering expansion of the pilot further, including to highly-compliant institutions in Scotland,” added Goodwill.

Scotland’s universities have also been dealt another blow with Brexit, as Universities Scotland informed the Scottish Affairs Committee that leaving the EU would make it even more challenging for its universities to compete in a “fiercely challenging global market” for international students, reported Herald Scotland.

The committee is currently holding an inquiry into Scotland’s post-Brexit options.

Image via Shutterstock 

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