Immigration minister Damian Green is considering reducing the length of time overseas graduates can seek skilled work in the UK in order to keep jobs for UK graduates.
Green said that the primary objective of studying in the UK must be to study, not to work or to acquire long-term residency status. In his consultation on immigration Green proposed that students should be able to switch into skilled tier 2 jobs.
But they must have an offer from a sponsor "rather than having unfettered access to the UK labour market for two years through the post study route, competing for jobs with the hundreds of thousands of unemployed UK graduates", Green said at a Reform Think Thank event yesterday.
"At a time when graduate unemployment is at its highest level for 17 years we need a more targeted approach. We will consider the options, for example reducing the length of time that graduates can seek skilled work in the UK, in the light of the consultation responses," he said.
Green added that he wanted the most talented graduates to contribute to the UK economy but that existing methods were not working. In 2009, around 38,000 international graduates entered post study work, which is intended to form a bridge between study and skilled work. However, only around half of them were in a skilled occupation, with many going into secretarial, sales, customer service and catering roles.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest there is a significant breach in part-time working hours, Green said. "UK Border Agency enforcement teams regularly encounter this. For example they recently picked up students who were supposed to be studying in London, but who were actually living and working in West Wales," he told delegates at the event.
Green answered critics who have said the new immigration rules will have an impact on UK universities’ ability to attract the best talent. Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), has said that university education is on the country’s most successful exports and that 19% of candidates for LSE alone come from China and that country is now a £1.7 billion export market. In 2007/08 the total value of international educational activities to the UK economy was over £5 billion.
"I recognise the important contribution that international students make to our economy and cultural life and to making our education system one of the best in the world. It is a tribute to the excellence of our universities and colleges that they have been so successful in developing international educational activities as a major contributor to economic growth," said Green.
"My aim is not remotely to stop this happening. We want more, not less, of the benefits of these educational activities. I am seeking to eliminate abuses within the system. So the universities, all of whom are highly trusted sponsors of foreign students, should not worry. We want to make sure that every student who comes to this country is a legitimate student following a legitimate course."
Green also reaffirmed the Government’s plans on limiting economic migration. From 6 April there is a limit of 20,700 non-EU skilled workers entering the UK, all of who must have a job offer before they arrive.
Intra-company transfers for those who earn over £40 000 are exempt from the limit and 1,000 visas a year will be provided for a new category of ‘exceptional talent’.
"We want to make it easier for the brightest and best to come here. So this is not about closing our doors; it is about a more selective approach in the interests of Britain."
The Home Office, together with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, is now considering the 30,000 responses from organisations and individuals to the consultation. Green said it would finalise its proposals and announce its response "as soon as possible".
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