Post study work for international students

Universities want to see a change to immigration policy to allow a competitive post study work option for international students.

Scotland is losing out in the recruitment of international students to Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada because the UK has one of the least competitive policies on post-study work in the English-speaking world.

  • The UK’s current student immigration policy is to the detriment of Scotland’s universities and to Scotland’s economy as international students generate over £800 million of income every year. Around half of this economic impact is in off-campus expenditure.
  • The UK’s current student immigration policy is to the detriment of Scotland’s business and industry as there are high-skill shortages across a number of sectors that are not being met by UK and EU-domiciled people.


There is support for a change in immigration policy among university Principals, staff and students, among business leaders in Scotland and across all political parties within the Scottish Parliament.

What is needed

A change in immigration policy could happen in one of two ways:

  1. The UK Government could take a decision to reintroduce such a scheme for the whole of the UK to the benefit of all UK universities.
  1. The UK and Scottish Governments could reach agreement that there should be some variance in immigration policy for Scotland to allow this to be reintroduced for Scotland’s universities. This was a recommendation of the Smith Commission.


There is precedent for this within the UK. Scotland ran a slightly different immigration policy for international graduates between 2004-2008 under the Fresh Talent initiative.

Canada also sets a helpful precedent. Canada’s Provincial Nominee scheme enables the Provinces to vary immigration policy to admit people with the skills needed by the economy of the Province. This has run successfully since 1998.

Recent developments

2016 has seen a resurgence of interest in a post study work route for Scotland in light of a number of developments:

  • a Scotland Office document, published in January, appeared to indicate that the UK Government had no intention of reintroducing a post study work scheme in Scotland. Mr Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland has since clarified, at an appearance of the Scottish Affairs Committee, that no final decision has yet been reached. Universities Scotland has written to the Scotland Office to request a meeting.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee published its recommendations on reform of Tier 2 visa route for graduates and HE staff in January 2016. Tier 2 is the main route open to international students hoping to stay on and work within the UK. Disappointingly MAC is recommending an increase in the minimum salary thresholds for new entrants and established workers, contrary to the weight of evidence submitted by Universities Scotland and others. This would further narrow the opportunities available to international students.


The Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee took evidence on post study work visas in January. It heard from university and college sector representatives as well as two graduates through the previous Fresh Talent visa system, Maulin Buch and Mary Njoki. The Committee is expected to produce a short report on the issue in February.

Key Points

  • The UK has one of the least competitive post study work policies in the English-speaking developed world.
  • There has been a 60 per cent drop in the number of Indian students studying in Scotland since 2012.
  • International students bring in £800 million to Scotland’s economy every year.
  • Scotland’s universities score higher than the global average for satisfaction amongst international students.
  • While total international student recruitment stagnates in Scotland, Canada, Australia and the US see significant growth.
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An anti-competitive policy is hurting Scotland’s universities

The number of Indian students studying in Scotland has fallen by 60 per cent since 2012. This fall coincides with the removal of Tier 1 as a route for international students to work in the UK after graduation.

International student numbers from other key markets have also been badly affected. The number of Nigerian students studying in Scotland has fallen by 22 per cent in the same period.

Meanwhile Canada, Australia and the United States grow their international student recruitment year on year. Canadian universities have grown international student numbers by 32 per cent in the last four years. The US has seen growth of 22.5 per cent in the same period and Australia has reversed its immigration policy reforms and is now looking at annual growth of 3-7 per cent.

This is despite the fact that more international students would recommend Scotland a place to study than students in the rest of the UK or across the world, as a global average. The quality of experience Scotland’s universities can offer is unrivalled. An anti-competitive immigration policy is holding us back.


Our work towards this policy goal


Universities Scotland asked the Scottish Affairs Committee to look into the economic cost to Scotland since the closure of the Fresh Talent Tier 1 route in 2012 as part of its work programme for 2015/16. The Committee’s enquiry is ongoing. Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal of the University of Aberdeen, gave evidence on this issue, on behalf of Universities Scotland, when the Committee was in Aberdeen in late 2015.

Since the Smith Commission reported its recommendations the Scottish Government established a working group to develop a workable post study work policy for Scotland. The group published a report in March 2015 which has the support of universities, their students and staff, colleges and the business community.

Conversations between the UK and Scottish Government are ongoing. However, the UK Government remains determined to reduce net migration to under 100,000.


Lord Smith’s Commission into further powers for Scotland recommended that the UK and Scottish Government engage in talks with a view to introducing some variance from UK policy for Scotland. This recommendation was not a formal part of the Commission’s recommendations because additional powers are not necessary to do this. Scotland ran a programme for international students, called Fresh Talent, between 2004 and 2008, which was very similar to that which we want to see reintroduced.

Universities Scotland’s submission to the Smith Commission presented the economic, demographic and societal benefits that could be gained from reintroducing a post-study work route.

The evidence we submitted to Lord Smith was supported by student and staff unions as well as by businesses. An open letter was signed by these stakeholders in November 2014.

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