Outflanking UKIP on immigration must be tough for a politician, but Theresa May appears to be giving it a decent shot. A source ‘close to the Home Secretary’ told the Sunday Times that May wants to make it more difficult for foreign citizens graduating from UK universities to get work visas, as she seeks to bring net migration down to the now-unrealistic looking Government pledge of 'tens of thousands'.
Currently, graduates have a grace period during which they can stay here to look for jobs and apply for a work visa after their courses finish. If May gets her way, they would need to return to their home country before re-applying for a visa.
The Conservatives have been making more and more noises about immigration (mostly hoarse grumbles) as they see their voters (and MPs…) migrate to UKIP before next year’s election. If this proposal does in fact become part of the Tory manifesto, it might help lure some of those voters back, but one has to wonder if the Treasury is likely to be pleased.
Graduates on average earn significantly more than non-graduates. Twentysomethings have the highest proportion of years in work against years out of work than any age group. Young graduates are therefore among the most economically valuable demographics around.
Reducing the numbers of young foreign graduates could have a serious effect on the British economy and British business. According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs, there were 425,000 non-UK students at British Universities in 2012-3, of whom 300,000 were from outside the EU. Of these, approximately 70,000 stay after their course finishes, according to the ONS.
While May’s idea is technically just to make sure the graduates go home before getting their visa, it would surely make staying and indeed studying here in the first place less attractive, because it puts up yet another barrier.
Earlier this summer, inventor-billionaire James Dyson spoke out against Britain’s immigration policies, which ‘suck’, and their effect on business. Nearly half of science and engineering undergraduates were from outside the EU, he said, and if we don’t make them welcome ‘they go home and then they become competitors to us’.
Educated high achievers aren’t the only ones who could face a clamp down, of course. How long will it be, for instance, before there’s a call to get tough on all those fleeing Russian billionaires, coming over here, taking all our jobs and our women, buying our football teams and generally spending money in our shops like they own the place?