Still too easy to slip on the welcome mat

November 7, 2013

Various articles in last week’s Times Higher Education (including “Bad Indian signs, but applications hold up despite crackdown”, News, 31 October) covered UK international recruitment and the degree to which it is being affected by visa changes and the associated rhetoric. In your sample, there appear to be signs that demand may be strengthening once again (except in India, alas). There are a number of reasons for caution, however.

First, these are applications, not enrolments, and we all hope that the applicants recorded did opt to study here and safely received their visas, arrived and registered.

Second, many of them will have been attracted by the promise that some may stay on to work (in Tier 2) if they can secure one of the much quoted and attractive-sounding “graduate jobs” with “salaries of at least £20,300”. All this sounds very reasonable. Sadly, the devil is in the detail.

The UK Council for International Student Affairs recently fielded the case of an overseas postgraduate being offered a job as business development executive for a leading City law firm on a salary of £34,000. So far, so good.

When the firm realised she needed to be sponsored under its Tier 2 licence, however, it withdrew the offer, saying at first (mistakenly) that she was subject to a resident labour market test. When it accepted its error (she was transferring in-country and was therefore exempt), the firm argued that despite offering the highly qualified individual a salary far exceeding the Tier 2 income requirement, the role did not meet the Home Office’s minimum skills threshold (National Qualifications Framework level 6).

After four years in the UK and so much investment, she is packing her bags and going home.

If leading law firms find the rules difficult to follow, how will every landlord in the UK cope when they are required (if the immigration bill is approved) to check the immigration status of every student tenant? And what will be the impact of the other measure in the bill that will particularly affect overseas students: namely the requirement to pay a health services “surcharge”, which for a married PhD student could mean an extra £1,000 on top of their standard visa fee?

We would be the first to welcome signs that the UK is regaining its “welcoming” reputation, that visa rules are becoming better understood and that numbers are increasing once more. But if we are to attract and retain overseas talent, post-study work rules must be simplified and properly thought through, given the damage that could be caused by the measures currently going through Parliament.

Dominic Scott
Chief executive
UK Council for International Student Affairs

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