The UK Government has performed a U-turn on one of Theresa May’s most controversial immigration policies, reintroducing two-year post-study work visas to encourage international graduates to stay in the country.
Post-study work visas were scrapped in 2012 as part of an immigration crackdown during Mrs May’s tenure as home secretary, targeting so-called “bogus colleges” and international students who stayed in the UK longer than permitted.
But universities and employers have complained the move, which was blamed for a sharp fall in the number of students from countries such as India and Pakistan coming to the UK, stifled innovation and contributed to skills shortages for employers in science and technology sectors.
The number of students coming to the UK from India alone fell by half between 2010 and 2014, from around 40,000 to 20,000.
The reversal of one of Mrs May’s flagship immigration policies was welcomed across the higher education sector and by major employers, but the government was accused of a “screeching Tory U-turn” by the SNP.
The changes will apply to graduates of institutions with a track record of upholding immigration rules and are due to come into effect for those starting courses next year.
“Britain has a proud history of putting itself at the heart of international collaboration and discovery,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “That’s why we’re unveiling a new route for international students to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK.” Home secretary Priti Patel said the change in approach “demonstrates our global outlook and will ensure that we continue to attract the best and brightest”.
Reports suggest the announcement was due to be made by Mr Johnson’s brother, the former universities minister Jo Johnson, at a Universities UK conference last Thursday, but was delayed after his shock resignation over Brexit.
Alastair Sim, the Director of Universities Scotland, welcomed the “significant and positive” move.
“The potential impact of this will be felt much more widely than our universities; it is sure to make a positive contribution to Scotland’s demographic challenges and to Scotland’s economy in the medium and long term,” Mr Sim said.
“It’s also a positive start to a much needed change of messaging from the UK Government to the rest of the world.”
The SNP’s immigration spokesman at Westminster, Stuart McDonald, said the move was a “huge victory” for his party.
“This long overdue move underlines the absurdity of this shambolic Tory government and their harmful and erratic hostile environment policies,” Mr McDonald said.
The announcement comes a day after the Scottish Government’s higher education minister Richard Lochhead told Holyrood that UK proposals for a points-based immigration system after Brexit would be a “wrecking ball” for Scotland’s academic institutions.