Theresa May’s draconian visa curbs have been reversed, not a moment too soonby Jonathan Portes / September 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
There’s stiff competition. But while it hasn’t disrupted as many lives as her policies which prevented Britons marrying foreigners, nor was it as blatantly unjust as the Windrush scandal, Theresa May’s closure of the Post-Study Work Route—which allowed students from outside the EU to stay on in the UK for up to two years—was probably the single most economically damaging immigration policy of the Cameron government. Both common sense, as well as every credible empirical analysis that I can think of, suggests that migrants who are younger, better educated, speak English, and have some knowledge and experience of the UK are, on average, likely to have a positive economic and fiscal impact. People who’ve just finished their studies here tick all these boxes.
May’s decision was ostensibly based on some (fairly ropy) Home Office data, as well as anecdotal evidence that some of those staying on were working in low-skilled occupations. But the primary reason—as the government said at the time—was simply to reduce numbers. This led to the bizarre spectacle of ministers claiming that making the UK less attractive to foreign students—and the corresponding fall in export earnings—was a policy success. More recently, analysis by the Migration Advisory Committee does suggest that a significant proportion of non-EU students who stay on earn less than you might expect. As they say, without a proper evaluation it’s difficult to know what’s going on here. But even to the extent this is the case, it’s not clear that having a relatively small number of young people working in low-paid jobs has any obvious major downsides—they can’t claim benefits and are unlikely to place much of a burden on public services. And those who don’t get a job at all will probably just go home. We have yet to see the detail of how the new scheme will work, but it would be churlish not to welcome today’s announcement that the government has reversed course and restored the Post-Study Work Route. Unsurprisingly, the higher education sector is overjoyed—although this perhaps reflects more our own narrow sectoral interests, since it will make the UK “offer” to potential foreign students more competitive, more than the wider benefits. Not that there anything wrong with reversing a policy that has eroded the market share of UK universities in a growing, and high-value, global market.
More broadly, though, what does this…