Visa into low-skilled work punishes UK unemployed during economic crisis


March 31, 2021

The government’s decision - recently confirmed under cover of the budget - to allow foreign university students to stay on after their courses for up to two years to work in almost any capacity (even stacking shelves) flies in the face of previous experience and even goes against the recommendations of their own advisers.

Polling suggests that the public will also be concerned by the lack of safeguards surrounding the visa:

  • 64% of the public say overseas workers should have to have a job offer from an approved employer before coming here (YouGov, Feb. 2020), yet applicants under the planned route will not be required to have a job offer to apply.
  • More than 70% of the public want an annual cap on the number of people coming to the UK to work, yet this route will not be subject to any annual cap (Deltapoll, late 2019).
  • 77% think the government should ensure that bosses prioritise hiring UK workers instead of enabling more overseas recruitment, but the government has scrapped a previous safeguard requiring recruiters to do this (Deltapoll, mid 2020).

A new Migration Watch UK briefing paper (MW490 - Risks of reviving the defective post-study work route) lays out the evidence on why reviving this failed route is a major error.

The public know that abuse of the student route has been a serious problem for immigration control. For example:

  • In 2009 / 2010 there were so many dubious student visa applicants that consular posts, mainly in the Indian sub-continent, had to be closed for several months. The National Audit Office (NAO) later found that 40,000-50,000 of those who had entered might have come to work rather than to study
  • A 2011 Home Office Pilot Scheme showed that around 60% of students from major source countries such as India, Bangladesh and Nigeria should have been refused a study visa on credibility grounds.
  • In May 2019 the NAO said that it was reasonable to conclude that there had been cheating on a large scale at two English language test centres. The Home Office said that the case was indicative of significant organised fraud.

The government took a number of key steps:

  • Sponsorship regulations were tightened. From 2011 education institutions had to acquire Highly Trusted Sponsor Status to bring in foreign students. Since then, about 1,000 bogus colleges have been shut down.
  • From 2011 only those studying at post graduate level for longer than twelve months were permitted to bring in dependants.
  • The number of hours that a student could work part time was made dependent on the level of their course.
  • Between 2012 and 2014 a number of universities had their licenses temporarily suspended.

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has specifically recommended against introducing specific post-study work arrangements.

In 2018, this body of official experts said that 'demand for student visas should stem from the value of the education being acquired' and warned that introducing such a route 'risks adding to low-skilled migration and encouraging institutions to market themselves based on post-study work opportunities rather than the quality of the education they offer' (see p. 109 of report).

They added that post-study work schemes could be used by those on low earnings and by those who were not the most highly-skilled.

Separately, in 2012 they found that 160,000 British workers had been displaced by immigration between 1995 and 2010. They also said that immigration into lower paid work has had a “negative impact on the wages of the low paid” and that, in this context, the “youth labour market is a cause for concern”.

The MAC chairman told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that this type of immigration had been a cost to the Treasury since it helped to make the UK a lower wage, lower productivity economy and does not help innovation

Commenting, Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:

The government have collapsed in the face of pressure from the academic establishment. These changes are bound to add to competition for lower-paid jobs at a time of very high unemployment of UK workers, especially younger people. They will also unravel hard won progress in tackling previously widespread abuse of study visas.


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