Addressing the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Humza Yousaf, the SNP minister for external affairs and international development, warned that the UK immigration system makes it “increasingly difficult for international students to come to Scotland and the rest of the UK to study”.
Mr Yousaf said that following the Westminster government’s closure of the post-study work visa route, which granted non-EU students two years residence in the UK to seek employment after graduating from university, “the number of non-European Union enrolments – the figure taken into account for all years of study – was 0.7 per cent lower than it was the previous year” in Scotland.
He went on to say that the number of first year students from India, Pakistan and Nigeria entering Scottish higher education institutions has decreased by 58 per cent, 38 per cent and 22 per cent respectively since April 2012.
The post-study work visa route was closed in 2012, a result of the Conservatives’ pledge to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.
Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia who led Universities UK’s lobbying on student visas, told Times Higher Education in 2012 that Theresa May, the home secretary, “is continuing to cast a dark cloud over British higher education, and continuing to counteract and undermine government policy in this area – which is to nurture and increase the flow of (legitimate) non-EU students to British universities.”
He also likened Ms May to a Dalek.
Mr Yousaf promised to depart from the Westminster government’s immigration policy if Scotland were to become independent.
He said that an independent Scotland would be “taking responsibility for…[its] own immigration system” and promised the “reintroduction of the post-study work visa”, which would “help attract international students to [Scotland’s] universities and colleges to deliver the economic prosperity that could be achieved with independence”.