UK Government's new immigration system will work well for Scotland – Kevin Foster MP

The United Kingdom is one of the most sought-after countries in the world for international students.

The UK Government wants the brightest and best students to be able to live in this country after completing their studies (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The UK Government wants the brightest and best students to be able to live in this country after completing their studies (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Every year, many thousands come here from all over the world to study at our outstanding educational establishments, including Scotland’s globally recognised universities.

Scottish universities have contributed a huge amount to securing this reputation, and they will benefit directly from the new graduate immigration route we launched this week.

They have been world leaders in research and scholarship for centuries. Not only is St Andrews one of the oldest and most respected institutions in the world, but we shouldn’t forget Scotland had established its four ancient universities long before England moved beyond two.

Since then it has added a succession of fine and innovative universities, responsible for cutting-edge research and applications in a whole range of disciplines and sectors, such as energy, the design and synthesis of new materials, the first-ever, full-body MRI scanner, and, of course, Dolly the cloned sheep.

Overall, Scotland’s universities play a crucial part in keeping our world-leading higher education sector competitive on the global stage and at the cutting edge of research.

The international students choosing Scotland as the base for their continuing education can be guaranteed first-class tuition and the kudos of joining a world-renowned international research community.

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I saw this first hand when, as minister for future borders and immigration, I visited the University of Glasgow, where I was impressed by the staff and students’ dedication, enthusiasm and ability in tackling some of the biggest challenges to face our world. It is also an institution which reaps the benefits of attracting so many international students, as do all of Scotland’s universities, and those of our whole UK.

In the year ending March 2021 250,683 sponsored study visas were issued, with many of those students taking up courses at Scottish universities.

Whether to work or study, we are determined to continue attracting the brightest and best to the UK.

This is what our new points-based immigration system is designed to achieve.

International students make an invaluable social, cultural and economic contribution to campuses and our wider society.

They enrich the experiences of those they live and study with, and they go on to become proponents of the UK’s education offer, helping ensure others follow in their footsteps.

We are determined to preserve and build on the reputation we have forged across the world.

And this is why the graduate immigration route we have launched is a such a significant step.

We want the brightest and best students to have the opportunity to remain here and continue contributing to the UK after completing their studies. The new route will help us achieve this.

It will provide international graduates with the chance to stay and work, or look for work, for at least two years after being awarded a degree from a UK university– including Scottish institutions.

We have designed the new route to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

Graduates who have completed an eligible course at a UK higher education provider with a track record of complying with the government’s immigration requirements can apply.

Successful applicants can work or look for work at any skill level after their studies, without needing to be sponsored – so no job offer is needed.

There is no minimum salary requirement, nor any cap on numbers – meaning those accepted onto the route will be able to work flexibly, switch jobs and develop their careers.

At the end of the period covered by the graduate route – two years for undergraduates, three for doctoral students – those on it will be able to continue living and working in the UK.

They could do this by applying to other routes during or at the end of their stay, such as the ‘skilled worker’, ‘global talent’ or ‘innovator’ routes, further contributing to UK society and putting them on a firm path to settling here permanently.

I know how much of an impact the pandemic has had on international students, due to the effects of Covid-19 on travel and border health regulations.

This is why to help ensure as many students as possible are able to benefit from our new graduate route, and to ensure students travelling to the UK can do so safely and securely, we are pushing the overall eligibility date on distance learning back to 27 September, from 21 June, regardless of whether students started their course in autumn 2020 or January/February 2021.

As well as boosting the UK’s ability to attract the best talent from around the world, this new route will also support our agenda to build back better after the pandemic by ensuring businesses can recruit highly qualified staff from across the globe.

It is absolutely critical our immigration system works for the whole of the UK, including Scotland.

Our new points-based system is designed to attract and retain people who will help our economy to build back stronger, based on the skills they have rather than where their passport comes from, while ensuring employers are giving opportunities to the domestic population.

Communities in Scotland are already benefiting from our health-and-care visa, which makes it easier for healthcare workers to take up posts to help the nation battle coronavirus. At least 20,000 people have been granted a visa through that route, while we have also granted thousands of crucial frontline health workers and their dependants have been granted free visa extensions.

People coming on the skilled-worker route are taking up posts across the UK while our global-talent visa makes it simple for the most gifted to come here to work.

As our graduate route shows, we are committed to reforming our immigration system for the better and ensuring it works for the benefit of Scotland.

Kevin Foster is Conservative MP for Torbay and the UK Government minister for future borders and immigration

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