This month has seen angry comments from SNP MPs and MSPs prompted by the Scottish Secretary David Mundell’s statement that the UK Government had ‘no intention’ of allowing the Post Study Work visa category to be reintroduced in Scotland. This is despite extremely strong support for the PSW being reintroduced from educational institutions, industry and even across the political spectrum in Scotland.
The reintroduction of the PSW is not without its difficulties. Primarily the creation of a substantially more liberal regime north of the border has obvious potential to create an imbalance. Many foreign students place a high premium on their prospects to remain in the UK after graduation. If such a prospect was tied to study at a Scottish institution it is not difficult to predict a competitive disadvantage between institutions here and south of the border, with Scottish Institutions able to offer a unique selling point that their competitors in England, Wales or Northern Ireland could not.
In immigration law terms too, whilst historically in more liberal times there were some categories of visa that were distinct to Scotland, the increasing tightening and homogenisation of migration control by the UK government would make it practically and legally difficult to manage a simultaneous relaxation in only one country of the UK.
At the present time students remain part of the yearly net migration figure, a number which the Prime Minister David Cameron promised to reduce to one hundred thousand and an objective which increasingly looks unobtainable. To avoid the imbalance inherent in liberalisation in one country of the UK, it would be necessary to apply the change UK wide, but of course this would further damage the attempts to reduce the migration figures. There has been talk of a change in policy to remove student numbers from the figures and indeed some reports of disputes within the Cabinet between the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the issue. It may be therefore that a shift in UK government policy will help the case to reintroduce the PSW, but whilst it remains an issue only for one country in the UK, there are significant technical and legal obstacles.
As published in January edition of the Business Herald. Herald Scotland. com