SCOTLAND’S global reputation is being damaged by the “irresponsible and negative” UK approach to immigration which forces top foreign students to leave after their studies, MSPs have been told.
Education minister Alasdair Allan has warned that Scotland must “attract the brightest and best” to meet the country’s future needs.
But the number of non-EU foreign students in Scotland has stalled at about 28,500 and MSPs across all parties yesterday united to call for the re-introduction of the post-study work visa in Scotland, encouraging more to stay on.
It came as a new report yesterday showed that half of immigrants are educated to degree level and make a “positive contribution” to the economy.
Dr Allan told MSPs: “I’m certain that the UK government immigration policies are damaging to the universities sector, to Scotland and to our international reputation.
“It is nonsense to drive away well-qualified, motivated young people from Scotland when they’re exactly the type of people that we need to stay and contribute to our great nation.”
Students were allowed to stay and work for up to two years in Scotland under the Fresh Talent scheme introduced by Labour first minister Jack McConnell.
But this was scrapped in 2012. Now, if students want to stay, they must re-apply under the more restrictive Tier 2 visa system.
A report published at the weekend by a group of Scottish business, education and civic chiefs called for the re-introduction of the visa, allowing students to stay for at least a year after graduating.
Scotland must be seen as home for “talented individuals” to settle Dr Allan said. “The first step in that is attracting the brightest and best from around the world to our colleges and universities. The Scottish Government is not on the same page as the UK government – we deplore irresponsible, negative rhetoric on immigration.”
Conservative MSP Liz Smith admitted the party in Scotland had concerns about the UK approach. She said many higher education organisations were “expressing deep-seated concerns about some aspects of Westminster immigration policy, which they argue… are overly restrictive and threatening to diminish the good work of these institutions”.
A Home Office spokesperson said the previous student immigration system was “open to widespread abuse”.
“In its place, we are building an immigration system that works in the national interest by attracting the brightest to study in top universities, not allowing bogus colleges to cheat, letting graduates remain to drive pizza delivery vehicles,” he said.
It came as new analysis showed half of all migrants aged 16 and above in Scotland are qualified to at least degree level. The Scottish Government data, based on the 2011 Census, shows migrants were equally likely to be economically active as the population as a whole and account for just 7 per cent of the population.
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