BRITAIN’S attempt to boost growth is being “undermined” by the UK government’s rhetoric against immigration, Business Secretary Vince Cable has said.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, the Liberal Democrat minister argues that the Home Office is “not treating with proper respect” the university sector, which wants to boost its numbers of foreign students and staff.
Cable denied coalition policy was preventing universities from selling to overseas markets, insisting they could recruit without limit. But he added: “The problem is more about the rhetoric and the language which is off-putting and which has fed through to countries like India.”
He added: “I get the same thing from English and Welsh and Northern Irish universities who are equally angry.
“They see their jobs being undermined and they see me and David Willetts [universities minister] as being allies.
“We have been very vocal in publicly criticising the Home Office. The way they are going about things is not treating with proper respect one of our big export industries and that is a UK argument.”
The comments were seized on by the Scottish Government, which said independence would give Scotland the ability to send out a different signal to foreign students.
However, UK government figures warned that a separate immigration regime in Scotland could lead to the creation of border posts with England.
Cable’s comments came after university chiefs in Scotland warned that restrictive UK visa rules were a “potential threat” to their income, with around £305 million depending on foreign students.
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “Overseas perception of UK immigration policy is harming our ability to attract the best international talent. Recent major falls in Indian and Pakistani student numbers reflect their perception that UK immigration policy makes us a less attractive destination.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are determined to prevent abuse of the student route as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. We are not harming genuine students.”
He said visa applications from foreign students had risen by 5 per cent.