No, Theresa, you May not bolster your leadership claims by stopping foreign graduates staying here.

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December 22, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith


Those blasted immigrants. Who do they think they are? Coming over here, saving our lives, creating products we want. Oh, wait…

Yes, the Tory leadership campaign for the aftermath of next May’s election has started in earnest. Theresa May announced that she wanted to implement a policy that made universities responsible for ensuring that any foreign students they take in, for which they would have sponsored a visa, leave when they get their degree.

Mathematically, and electorally it seems like a winner, after all, net student migration (those who came minus those who left) in the last 12 months was a staggering 70,000. It is completely impossible for the Government to meet its “No ifs, no buts” immigration target when this is happening, especially when it is happening in addition to the free movement of people from the EU. To the extent that our “uncontrolled immigration” is a reason why some people might choose to vote for a particular party, and that party at the moment is UKIP, instituting a policy to control the immigration that CAN be controlled, whether we are in the EU or out, seems like a ‘clever’ strategy.

I have used ‘clever’ for a reason. Many of those coming to this country on student visas are clever. Many of them may contribute to this country whilst they are doing their degree, and, far more importantly, some of them may contribute hugely to this country should they be allowed to stay after their degree.

A lot of the complaints about immigrants are about unskilled immigrants, who allegedly come over here and either take our low paid jobs, or through their numbers increasing supply of work force wages down, or (in far less numbers than are mythologised) take our benefits. May’s policy does nothing to deal with this.

What it does, in an economic sense, is firstly reduce the potential productive capacity of our economy in the future. Secondly, it reduces university funding, because foreign students pay tuition fees.

This is no longer an argument about ‘bogus’ student visas. The government has already tackled that problem by closing bogus language and other colleges. We are talking about genuine graduates. We are talking about exactly the type of educated, young person a growing yet ageing population needs to be attracting to this country.

There aren’t many areas in which the UK is world-class, but its university system is one of them. It is one of our most successful export industries, and the fees from foreign students help to keep it going. Put simply, if they know they are going to be packed off home at the end of their degrees, they won’t come, and we all lose out.

As I read what May said I was reminded of Dennis Skinner MP’s impassioned speech about his “United Nations operation” this year, carried out by a group of specialists who had come to this country from abroad. These kinds of people are categorically NOT the types of immigrants we should be doing anything other than welcoming.

The Home Affairs select committee recently identified 390,000 immigration cases in a current backlog. Perhaps Theresa May would like to concentrate on reducing that. There are known to be thousands of foreign criminals in this country, perhaps Theresa May would like to concentrate on deporting them?

But denuding this country of productive, intelligent, young future tax payers in the name of shoring up her political opportunities? No Thanks.

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