Seventeen leaders from businesses across industries said last month that the government must increase opportunities for qualified international graduates to “remain in the UK once they complete their studies”.
They also urge legislators to consider removing international university students from any net migration target.
The proposal to loosen visa restrictions on foreign students follows frequent criticisms from top UK business schools and universities. They fear the restrictions make the region a less attractive destination for graduates who will find it more difficult to secure jobs.
About 50% of MBA students base their location choice on where they would like to work after completing their degrees, according to recent applicant surveys.
Abolished in April 2013, the Tier 1 post-study work visa allowed UK undergraduate and postgraduate students to stay in the UK and seek work for a further two years after completing their studies.
In a letter to the Financial Times, the business leaders said that “we do not want to lose these talented people to our competitor economies as a result of ill-thought-out immigration policies”.
They said that many of the world’s brightest minds and entrepreneurs have studied at UK universities in recent years – “for example, the third of Nobel laureates since 2000 working in UK universities who were born overseas”.
The UK business department estimates that the number of foreign students coming to the UK will increase by 6% every year to 2020.
The letter cited an ICM poll which found that the vast majority of respondents think international students should be allowed to stay and work in the UK after graduating.
“We think that the continued contribution of these skills and ideas to businesses, both large and small, is absolutely vital to the future prosperity of the UK,” the leaders said.
Signatories of the letter included Simon Collins, UK chairman and senior partner of professional services firm KPMG, Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the world’s advertising group, WPP, who is also a Harvard MBA graduate, and John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, the biggest global education company by revenues.
Business schools say some companies that approach them are looking for MBA candidates who already have a right to work in the UK. The process of securing a visa for a non-EU graduate can be time-consuming and costly.
Other business leaders who signed the letter include Toby Peyton-Jones, HR director of Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company, Lord Bilimoria, Founder of Cobra Beer, and Bob Rothenberg, senior partner of accountancy firm Blick Rothenberg.
Representatives from business industry groups including the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce and London First also penned their names to the letter.