Overseas graduates of Scottish universities will be allowed to stay in the country longer under visa concessions designed to boost Scotland's dwindling population, writes Olga Wojtas.
At present, foreign students are allowed to remain in the UK only until October 31 of the year they graduate unless they have secured a work permit.
But on Wednesday this week, Scotland's first minister, Jack McConnell, told the Scottish Parliament that he had reached agreement with the Home Office on a two-year extension for graduates who want to live and work north of the border.
"They will be allowed to remain in Scotland and seek any type of work during this time. After two years, or earlier, graduates can switch into work-permit employment or other legal migration routes for which they qualify," Mr McConnell said.
Scotland has a falling and increasingly ageing population, and Mr McConnell's Fresh Talent scheme is targeted at attracting a pool of talented young people who can help boost the economy.
The first minister said the scheme would be operational by summer 2005 and would apply to students graduating that year. But plans were already under way to attract more students.
Extra cash would be earmarked to allow Scottish higher education institutions to boost their overseas recruitment and to enable them to offer more support to students after they arrive.
The Scottish Executive is preparing to work with the British Council to develop scholarship schemes that will allow new graduates to combine a year of postgraduate study with work experience. The schemes are scheduled to begin in October.
Mr McConnell is particularly keen to see scholarships in entrepreneurship.
In addition, employers will be given incentives tooffer work placements and traineeships to graduates from overseas.
Another initiative is the introduction, from the start of the new academic year, of appointed champions who will have the task of encouraging overseas students to consider staying in Scotland.
In a keynote speech last year, Mr McConnell said Scotland had the "fantastic advantage" of being a net importer of students from overseas and from the rest of the UK.
"Our universities are world class and we benefit from a massive influx of young people to study. I believe that increasing immigration to Scotland can play an important role in helping our economic future," Mr McConnell added.