Personal Immigration

Effect of immigration reforms on international students

An inquiry into the possible effects of Government immigration reforms on student numbers is currently being conducted by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

In particular, the investigation is looking at the numbers of international students in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), and how they may have been influenced by immigration rules.

Tier 1 post-study work route

A number of interested parties have submitted evidence to the inquiry, including EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, which has described the Government’s actions in restricting the ability of employers to recruit skilled non-EEA graduates as unreasonable.

EEF is particularly critical of the Government’s decision to abolish the Tier 1 post-study work route, which used to allow non-EEA graduates who had studied in the UK to seek employment for a period of two years after completing their studies. EEF claims that this closure has restricted the ability of employers to attract key STEM graduates from outwith Europe and that many graduates are forced to leave the UK once their studies are finished.

Employers finding it hard to recruit non-EEA graduates

EEF has also claimed that it is now very time-consuming and onerous to recruit international graduates, making it very hard for companies to bring in new international talent. It provided a number of statistics to support its arguments, including:

  • A quarter of manufacturers have recruited a non-EEA graduate in the past three years.
  • One in ten companies specifically plan to recruit a non-EEA student in the next three years.
  • Almost half of manufacturers disagreed that the process of recruiting a non-EEA graduate was easy.
  • Over half (53%) found the process of recruiting a non-EEA student very time-consuming.
  • Four in ten companies had difficulties securing a sponsorship licence when recruiting a non-EEA student.
  • Almost half had difficulties obtaining a visa for their non-EEA graduate employee.
  • A positive balance of 22% of companies said they would definitely hire a non-EEA student again.

“Manufacturers rely on the recruitment of non-EEA graduates to meet their skills needs, particularly those that hold degrees in the sciences, technologies, engineering and maths (STEM),” explained Tim Thomas, Head of Employment and Skills Policy at EEF. “Government policy should not unreasonably restrict employers’ ability to access this talent pool; however industry fears that current migration policy is doing just that.”

Recruiters also experiencing difficulties

Professional body the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) also submitted evidence to the inquiry, arguing that the recent immigration reforms have created difficulties for recruiters in placing skilled graduates into STEM roles such as engineering, IT and life sciences.

As a result, says the REC, many of these roles are remaining unfilled and company growth is restricted, which has a knock on negative effect on the creation of other jobs for UK workers.

High demand for STEM roles

The REC says that there continues to be high demand for certain key STEM roles, including engineering, IT and computing, medical and accounting roles, but UK companies are finding it hard to recruit and retain graduates with the skills they need.

It argues that these difficulties have been compounded by reforms brought in by the Government as part of its drive to cut overall immigration numbers, which have removed important STEM visa routes such as the Highly-Skilled Migrant/Tier 1 General Visa, and the Post-Study Work Visa.

According to the REC, although employers are still able to apply to become visa sponsors for migrants in Tier 2 General, many are unwilling to do so because of the cost and work involved, especially when there is no guarantee of being able to hire at the end of the process.

Even if a visa is granted, the amount of time a skilled graduate can stay in the country is very limited, complains the REC. Once their initial visa is complete, Tier 2 visa applicants now have to go back to their home county for a minimum of a year before they can return to the UK, even though UK companies are in desperate need of their skills.

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