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Industry attacks graduate visas proposal
From the Financial Times of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:07:58 GMT

Industry has attacked a proposal by Theresa May, home secretary, that students from outside the EU should leave the country at the end of their courses, amid signs that the idea is also causing concern at the top of the Tory party.

George Osborne, chancellor, is among those understood to have raised concerns that if Ms May’s idea was incorporated in the Tory manifesto it could undermine both British universities and businesses.

“It has been pointed out that graduates are not the real problem,” said one Tory insider who has witnessed party discussions about the next manifesto. Mr Osborne is among those thought to have raised concerns.

Ms May has proposed that non-EU students should leave Britain and apply for a visa from abroad if they wanted to work in the UK after finishing their studies.

Tory officials confirmed the idea was being considered for the party’s manifesto but that no decisions had been taken. A similar proposal was included in the 2010 Tory manifesto but did not survive coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats.

The idea has already been strongly criticised by British universities and their criticism was reinforced on Monday by the EEF manufacturers’ organisation, which said it “flew in the face of the concept of Britain being open to business”.

“Far from pushing international talent towards our global competitors, we should be focusing on proposals that support employers who need to recruit graduates from UK universities, wherever they come from,” the EEF said. “They are skilled people and industry needs them.”

Ms May is under pressure to tighten up Britain’s immigration rules after failing to deliver on the Tory promise to cut net inward migration to the “tens of thousands”.

The home secretary is said to be frustrated that the university sector wants to “have its cake and eat it” when it comes to overseas students.

Ms May’s allies point out that universities say students are only temporary visitors and should not be treated as immigrants, but when it is argued that they should therefore leave the country at the end of their course, colleges claim that immigration to Britain is part of their offer.

Under Ms May’s proposal the Tories would end the almost automatic right to work in Britain at the end of a course of study, with colleges that sponsor foreign students being made responsible for ensuring their departure.

The Office for National Statistics estimates that 121,000 non-EU students entered the UK in the year to June 2014 but only 51,000 left. Students can extend their Tier 4 visa or switch to another immigration route to stay in Britain.

Ms May argues that the need to make this change is becoming more pressing because of the likely growth of students wishing to come to Britain, but the idea is likely to fuel tensions between her and the chancellor.

Mr Osborne is a frequent opponent of Ms May’s immigration proposals because of their feared impact on the British economy; Vince Cable, the Lib Dem business minister, is even more critical.

All of Ms May’s actions are parsed by Number 10 as signs of her leadership ambitions. The home secretary’s tough stance on immigration will be seen as a signal that she is trying to extend her appeal to the Tory right.

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