I have been an educational consultant for some years now, and before that was a tutor and teacher. I have spent a long time dealing with foreign children of all ages who have come to the UK for their education. Some have done so on a shoestring, and some have cash to burn, but all have been hit by the testy machinery of immigration visas, and often this has hindered their GCSE, A level and exam progress. In at least three cases known to me personally, a student has done extra years simply because of bureaucratic foul-ups by the system. Sometimes, agents in the host country are to blame because they do not understand the system. But whatever the excuse, we should be ashamed to make young people suffer in this way, particularly when we are also taking their money.
I first noticed the Scottish MSP Humza Yousaf because he criticised the removal of Tier 1 in 2012 by the present Government. This is the visa that would allow a student, on completing a degree in the UK, to put his or her studies to use in a job. It generally allowed the student two years’ employment. It was a chance to test their skills in the market for which, quite frankly, they have been prepared. More than that, it was an opportunity for the Government to get some serious tax from people who no doubt will command high-salaried placements in the city. The alternative is to apply for a job and be sponsored under Tier 2. This is a complex and expensive procedure that few businesses are willing to undertake. What it means in practice, therefore, is that jobs are given to UK/EU citizens on graduation rather than to those from outside the EU. In other words, we have educated these people and get little benefit when that education is over. That makes no sense and it flies against the lessons of history. Education is a form of diplomacy and we should take it seriously.
Mr Yousaf said that the removal of the Tier 1 visa, along with many other aspects of aggressive immigration policy was damaging Scotland’s economy. But the reason behind the target was a commitment given by David Cameron to reduce UK immigration to below 100,000 by 2015, and certainly to bring down the annual net immigration figure of 260,000.
Now, Humza’s point was that immigrants had not settled across the UK evenly and far too few had made it up to Scotland. So, if public opinion in England was negative about immigration, in Scotland there was a different picture, and Humza in particular, himself the son of immigrants, with a mother from Kenya and a father from Pakistan, has mounted a campaign to welcome immigrants there. Scotland needs an immigration policy tailored to its own needs, but while we remain a UNITED KINGDOM, surely we should be working together with Edinburgh to tackle immigration and channel more people north!
The problem is not about net immigration. It is about the overall spread of immigration. And playing a numbers’ game is not the solution as indeed the present Government has discovered. The numbers are down, but in the South, people still complain- and that fuels the rise of racism and of UKIP. Ironic, then that Scotland is asking for immigrants. Isn’t the solution staring at us in the face?
Reform immigration control
A tight regulation for immigration which is conservative/coalition policy is fairly straightforward in principle. But it is a mess in practice because the Government inherited an unfit system from Labour. It is about proper control of our borders, which, of course, I welcome. What I do not welcome is the pressure on the two well-documented groups who actually should receive our support – these are students and refugees. We cannot tackle the problem of illegal immigration by appeal to bureaucracy because illegal migrants rarely have proper paperwork. That is why we need less bureaucrats and more people working on the street to catch gangs of dodgy undocumented migrants, or people catching a lift across the channel under lorries and slipping away at the first stop on the M1.
Just a few weeks’ ago, there was a report of two Albanian men arrested because they had been sitting on the rear axle waving at passing motorists from a Polish lorry. They were detained at junction 16 near Watford Gap services. A spokesman for Northamptonshire Police said: “We received a call at around 8.50am from a motorist who spotted a man waving at traffic while hanging on to the underside of a lorry”. The lorry driver was not aware of the stowaways. This may be a National issue, but when it happens near Northampton, it also becomes a local issue. I have no idea whether the two men were refugees or illegal migrants. I have suspicions, of course, but the fact remains they were also endangering other motorists and the police interception saved lives.
This is a dramatic story, but many local taxi-drivers will say they regularly pick up undocumented foreigners from Junction 16. It is the first stop on the M1. If the taxi-drivers know this, why does the immigration authority not? I suspect it is understaffed. Too much attention is paid to bureaucracy and not enough to front-line staff. This means that it is those with paper-work who receive the most scrutiny. Regrettably, that means students and refugees.
Why students and refugees are important
The reason we need to reign back our attacks on students and refugees is very simple. Refugees command our support because the way we deal with the most needy in society is the way we should be judged. As for Foreign students, they not only bring in extra money, but they are often the very people who, in years to come, will be running their own governments and businesses. These are the people with whom we hope to do business in the future and I hardly think they will welcome our attention if their principle memories of their time here as students are of being fleeced by scurrilous colleges and thrown out of the country willy-nilly because their paperwork needs renewing half-way through their course. (I do not understand the need, for example, to set up a new visa for children committed to a British education when they pass from GCSE to A levels and remain in the same school. This means delays and anxiety on top of the need to wait for GCSE results. Often, it means starting the 6th form late.) We need to support these students, not savage them.
Both students and refugees have a history of investing in and enriching our society. This cannot happen if we treat them like dirt. It harms us in the long run and it shames us. These two groups are becoming a scapegoat because we cannot be bothered to track down illegal migrants and we cannot prevent or indeed monitor gangs coming here from across mainland Europe.
We should not be demonizing groups of people- East Europeans and those outside Europe for instance; we need now to pool resources and work together to target those people in our society who are doing us damage. We cannot tackle the Eastern European gangs who target, for example, Pakistani houses in Banbury, unless we work together with the Rumanian and Bulgarian communities who know so much more about this than we do. And, of course, as I have repeatedly stressed, we cannot deal with Islamic terrorism without the help of Orthodox Islam.
Rather than alienating swathes of our population with continued talk of “widespread abuse”, we need urgently to make friends and reach out to our neighbours.
The Post Study working group
In March, a number of Scottish businesses and educational professionals called for change. A Post study work group was set up in August 2014 and made recommendations in March about how best to reinstate the Tier 1 visa, urging London and Edinburgh to work together. The following findings were published:
- 90 per cent of all respondents are in favour of bringing back the post study work visa for international students (100 per cent of education providers and 85 per cent of businesses).
- Business support for the reintroduction of the post study work visa rose to 94 per cent among those who had hired an international graduate under previous post study work schemes.
- The majority of respondents across business and education providers, believe international students should be free to remain and work in Scotland for at least two years after graduation.
- 70 per cent of respondents said that when a post study work visa comes to an end, individuals should have the ability to move onto a longer term visa.
Scotland also proposes that any time spent in a post study Tier 1 type visa should also count towards a residence visa – of indefinite leave to remain- should a former student wish to apply. The smith commission suggested the Westminster and Scottish Governments should “…work together to explore the possibility of introducing formal schemes to allow international higher education students graduating from Scottish further and higher education institutions to remain in Scotland and contribute to economic activity for a defined period of time.”
It is not just Scotland but the whole of the UK that needs to “attract and retain” world-class talent. We need the Tier 1 visa too.