In their report the Committee have found that current rules for students studying here to remain in Scotland are too restrictive and are preventing businesses from finding skilled workers.
Scotland faces different demographic challenges to the rest of the UK, with a much lower birth rate and significant skills gaps in the workforce. Sectors, such as health, energy and finance face particular problems in recruiting skilled graduate workers.
Loss of visas harmed Scotland
The Committee found that the closure of the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa in 2012, has harmed Scotland by making Scotland less competitive in the global education market, with other nations able to offer prospective students greater employment opportunities after graduation.
Closing this visa has also prevented Scotland from making use of a pool of skilled workers, educated in Scotland, who could help mitigate Scotland’s demographic challenges. Since the Post-Study Work visa was closed in 2012 the number of non-EU students remaining in the UK after graduating has fallen by 80%.
Businesses put off by cost and complexity
The Committee heard that the time non-EU students have to find a job after graduation is too short and minimum salary thresholds too high to make the current visa arrangements suitable for Scotland. Businesses are also being put off by the costly and complex sponsorship requirements that are currently in place.
Assurances given by the UK government that the current visa system works for Scotland have not been backed up by the evidence the Committee has received. Representatives from academia, business, industry, trade unions and government in Scotland highlighted the problems facing their sectors, caused by restrictive visa regulations. The Committee has called for the UK and Scottish governments to explore these issues together, as set out in the Smith Commission report.
The Committee has also said the UK Government should commission the Migration Advisory Commission to review the current route for skilled non-EU students to stay in the UK to work for a set period of time. Options that should be investigated include:
- Extending the length of student visa to allow a longer period after graduation for students to find work
- Reforms to sponsorship rules to make it easier for businesses to employee non-EU graduates
- Regional salary thresholds
Committee chair Pete Wishart said:
"Students from outside the EU come to Scotland to receive a world-class education and enjoy our unique cultural opportunities. We are glad to have them here and they help create a global environment at our universities which benefits everyone attending them.
We currently have a situation where people come to Scotland from around the world to spend three or four years here being educated and becoming settled in our society. Then we raise unnecessary barriers to allowing these talented individuals stay and contribute to our economy.
The Scottish government, education sector and business sectors have all indicated that they want to see changes to this situation. There has been an almost universal call for reform and the UK government must give assurance that it will take this into account and give proper consideration to reforms."