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April 14, 2014

How the UK’s immigration policy is damaging its technology industry

House of Lords committee finds an ‘unwelcoming’ UK to blame for drop in science, technology, engineering, and maths students.

By Ben Sullivan

A House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has released a report that shows an ‘unwelcoming’ UK has resulted in a massive fall of international Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) students.

The inquiry studied the numbers of students in STEM subjects, and found that the UK’s immigration policy has had an unprecedented impact, with STEM student enrolments have fallen by more than 10% in the last two years.

The report, called International Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students, calls on the UK government to rethink its "contradictory" immigration policy.

A statement on the website said that: "The Government are simultaneously committed to reducing net migration and attracting increasing numbers of international students (15-20% over the next five years). This contradiction could be resolved if the Government removed students, who comprise a majority of non-EU immigrants, from the net migration figures."

Lord Krebs, chair of the committee, said: "When we really need to send the message that international STEM students will get a warm welcome in the UK, they’re getting the cold shoulder and heading elsewhere. We’ve seen over the last few years how international student numbers have fallen dramatically, in particular from India. As a result we’re missing out on the talent, the economic and cultural contribution that international students bring when they come here to study, and our competitors are reaping the rewards.

"The overwhelming evidence that we received led us to conclude that changes to the immigration rules in this country have played a direct part in putting overseas students off from choosing the UK. The rules are seen as too complex and subject to endless changes, the visa costs are not competitive, and the rules relating to work after study are so limiting that prospective students are heading to the US, Australia, Canada and elsewhere.

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"We are calling on the Government to overhaul its immigration policies – in particular it needs to do away with the new rules on working after study. Allowing just four months for a student to find work after graduation is more or less tantamount to telling overseas students they’d be better off going to study elsewhere."

The report goes on to argue that international students make a "huge contribution" to the academic and intellectual makeup of UK universities, and they also contribute significantly to university finances.

A spokesperson from the Home Office told The Guardian: "We do not accept that the UK’s immigration rules are deterring international students and there is no clear evidence in the report to support that argument.

"The student visa system we inherited was weak and open to widespread abuse. We are controlling immigration while still attracting the brightest and the best."

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