Javid should seize the op­por­tu­nity to make UK im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy more sen­si­ble and hu­mane

John Latham, vice-chan­cel­lor of Coven try Univer­sity

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LET­TERS -

Some­where near the top of the new home sec­re­tary’s in tray – along­side sort­ing out the Win­drush scan­dal – should be the trans­for­ma­tion of our im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy into one that prop­erly recog­nises the pos­i­tive role of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

The ap­point­ment of Sa­jid Javid (pic­tured in­set) is an op­por­tu­nity for a fresh start and a more sen­si­ble and hu­mane ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion. Cen­tral to this ap­proach should be an im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that em­braces the pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion that in­ter­na­tional stu­dents make to all facets of our coun­try’s cul­ture, so­ci­ety and

econ­omy – the last to the tune of some £25 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Univer­si­ties UK study. These ben­e­fits are well un­der­stood in the sec­tor and across most parts of gov­ern­ment, not least by Javid fol­low­ing his ten­ure as busi­ness sec­re­tary. And the re­view by the Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee com­mis­sioned by Am­ber Rudd is wel­come and long over­due. Per­haps the new home sec­re­tary could ask that the com­mit­tee pub­lish its fi­nal re­port be­fore the sum­mer so that its find­ings can feed into the de­vel­op­ment of a new im­mi­gra­tion bill.

Javid’s re­jec­tion of some of the toxic lan­guage around im­mi­gra­tion is to be ap­plauded. A so-called hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment sends an ap­palling sig­nal to those in­ter­na­tional stu­dents we wish to at­tract and does noth­ing to en­tice those with the skills that the coun­try needs to re­main here. For too many years, univer­si­ties have been pushed into be­ing an ex­ten­sion of the Bor­der Agency. Not only has this come with sig­nif­i­cant ad­min­is­tra­tive costs, but it has un­der­mined the rhetoric around wel­com­ing the brightest and the best. It is time for a new ap­proach.

The new home sec­re­tary’s shift in tone must be backed up with a change in pol­icy. As a for­mer busi­ness sec­re­tary, it is likely that he un­der­stands the im­por­tance of higher ed­u­ca­tion as a global ex­port, par­tic­u­larly as the UK faces short­ages of peo­ple skilled in the STEM sub­jects that are so cru­cial to de­liv­er­ing the gov­ern­ment’s in­dus­trial strat­egy. Re­mov­ing stu­dents from the net mi­gra­tion fig­ures would send a pow­er­ful mes­sage. He will also need to turn his at­ten­tion to de­vel­op­ing a new im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that sup­ports eco­nomic growth in a post-Brexit land­scape. As a Re­mainer, he will hope­fully recog­nise the need to give cer­tainty to Euro­pean Union cit­i­zens study­ing here or work­ing across the sec­tor. EU-wide re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion and knowl­edge ex­change can con­tinue to be a key el­e­ment of eco­nomic growth, but it needs the im­mi­gra­tion frame­work to sup­port it. One pos­i­tive move would be for the cur­rent Tier 4 pilot to be ex­tended across the sec­tor to ease the visa ap­pli­ca­tion process for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents wish­ing to con­tinue their stud­ies or to work here.

Javid him­self is an ex­am­ple of the power of higher ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try, ris­ing from work­ing-class roots in the north west. I hope that he will work to en­sure that more young peo­ple can fol­low in his foot­steps.

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