A proposed change to the United Kingdom’s immigration rules requiring non-EU graduates to return to their home nations immediately upon completion of their studies is said to have received the backing of Home Secretary Theresa May.
Under the existing setup, graduates enjoy the right to remain in the UK for a maximum period of four months after completion of their studies. Graduates normally use the window to check out opportunities for work or further studies and complete visa formalities when residing within the UK. If the proposed plan, which is also expected to be included in the manifesto of the Conservative Party, is implemented, graduates will have no option but to look for work or opportunities for higher studies after returning to their country of origin.
The political logic for such a move is derived from the current controversy surrounding immigration levels in the UK. The proposed move simply tries to make it harder for students to find a reason to continue living in the UK even after completion of studies.
While the populist move may attract applause from worried voters, there are worries that the UK’s popularity as a nation that is eager to welcome talent may take a severe beating. Further, the policy of getting rid of the brightest students from other countries may have an adverse impact on the entrepreneurial talent in the UK.
The UK has been steadily attracting overseas entrepreneurs, especially in the technology sector, due to its business-friendly policies and innovations like the Tech City cluster in London. Apart from the cluster’s benefits, entrepreneurs are attracted by the pro-business regulatory setup, easy access to finance, and a general culture that encourages and welcomes entrepreneurial talent from all over the world.
A March 2014 report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs and DueDil titled Migrant Entrepreneurs, Building Our Businesses stated that around 17% of all non-British citizens in the UK had setup their own companies while the same figure for British citizens stood at around 10.4%.
The important role played by migrants in job creation and entrepreneurship was evident from the fact that around 456,000 immigrant entrepreneurs had created jobs for around 8.3 million people in the UK. It is evident that Tech City is not an isolated instance of the UK attracting young entrepreneurs from foreign countries.
The report indicated that the UK was attracting talent from a wide range of countries, from developed European nations like Germany, France, and Italy to Commonwealth nations like India, Pakistan, and Australia. Ireland, not surprisingly, was the biggest supplier of entrepreneurs to the UK. The USA, China, and Nigeria were ranked 4th, 5th, and 10th respectively in terms of contribution of entrepreneurial talent to the UK.
However, the UK cannot afford to take its popularity for granted. There is a possibility that the new proposal requiring foreign graduates to leave may not become a part of the portfolio, or, if included, may never get implemented due to pressure from coalition partners. One partner of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats has indicated their opposition to the move.
Irrespective of whether the proposal sees the light of day, the strident and increasingly shrill tone of the immigrant debate in the UK may create an impression that the UK is no longer intent on welcoming students, young graduates, or entrepreneurial talent from abroad.
As of now, there is no doubt that the best and brightest talents from foreign countries are welcome in the UK. Acquiring a visa and setting up a business in the UK is a lot easier than other developing and developed countries. However, such controversial proposals may lead to the perception that the UK is becoming hostile towards immigration, which can have damaging consequences for job creation in the UK.