UK government's "unreasonable" policies restricting immigration of skilled graduates, manufacturers claim

Out-Law News | 28 Feb 2014 | 12:27 pm | 2 min. read

The UK government's "unreasonable" immigration policies are preventing manufacturers from hiring skilled graduates from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), an industry body has said.

EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, made the claims as part of a House of Lords Select Committee inquiry into changes to immigration policy and international students in the 'STEM' fields: science, technology, engineering and manufacturing. A call for evidence on whether the changes have affected student numbers, as well as how the new policies are perceived abroad, closed this week and evidence will be used to inform the Science and Technology Committee's research.

"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," said Tim Thomas, EEF's head of employment and skills policy. "Government policy should not unreasonably restrict employers' ability to access this talent pool; however industry fears that current migration policy is doing just that."

"Government should promote the value of international graduates, just as employers do. It should restore the Tier 1 post-study work route, or, introduce a route which allows international STEM graduates to stay in the UK after their studies to occupy hard-to-fill roles in industries such as manufacturing. Government must work harder to remove the hurdles employers face when recruiting international graduates, giving businesses simple, easy access to skills they desperately need," he said.

Before the government abolished the Tier 1 post-study work visa in April 2013, non-EEA graduates who had studied in the UK had the opportunity to stay in the country and seek work for a further two years after completing their studies. EEF said that this change in the law left many STEM graduates from outside Europe with no choice but to leave the UK as soon as they graduated.

According to EEF, the process of recruiting international graduates is time-consuming and burdensome for employers, making them less likely to search for new talent internationally. In its submission to the committee, it said that although a quarter of its members had recruited a non-EEA graduate in the past three years, four in ten of those companies had had difficulty securing a sponsorship licence when recruiting a non-EEA student and almost half had had difficulties in obtaining a visa for a non-EEA graduate employee.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the number of non-EU students enrolling in UK universities fell for the first time between 2011/12 and the last academic year, 2012/13. Although the figures only showed a 1% drop in numbers overall, this was only because more students arriving from China and Hong Kong masked a 25% reduction in the number of Indian students and a 19% reduction in the number of Pakistani students arriving in the UK in a single academic year.

Among the issues that the Science and Technology Committee hopes to address in its inquiry is whether the changes to immigration rules are having an adverse effect on prospective international STEM recruitment overall, as well as a more detailed look at how the numbers and demographics of STEM students in the UK have changed since the new policy came into force. It also intends to consider whether UK universities are now losing out internationally as a result of the country's immigration policy.