Manifesto Check: SNP migration plans focus on international students

Talent injection: Nicola Sturgeon at Heriot-Watt University. Andrew Milligan/PA

The SNP’s 2015 manifesto does not contain any surprises in terms of immigration policy – or many immigration policies at all. What it does do is acknowledge the contribution that migrants make to Scotland (“Diversity is one of Scotland’s great strengths”) and specifically, it calls for the reintroduction of the Post-Study Work (PSW) visa.

This deserves a cautious welcome. For some time, the higher education sector has protested that the UK’s approach to immigration is harming British universities and also the country in general. This is particularly pressing in Scotland, where the higher education sector makes a sizeable contribution to the economy and international students constitute a larger share of the student body than in the UK as a whole.

In addition, the importance of international students in Scotland’s higher education sector is set to grow: Scotland’s ageing population means we can expect a decline in the number of young people, and therefore potential students, growing up there.

A re-introduction of the PSW visa, which was abolished by the UK government in 2012, would have echoes of the 2004-2008 Fresh Talent Initiative, which allowed international students to remain in Scotland for a period of up to two years after graduating. A re-introduced PSW would serve the interests of Scotland’s higher education sector and economy more broadly. Offering international students the chance to work after graduation could give Scottish universities at a competitive advantage over their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

Unlike the current state of affairs in UK politics, the issue of immigration did not feature heavily in the Scottish referendum debate or in the discussions about devolution which have followed from it. Since it is not being a key issue for the Scottish electorate or Scottish politicians, it could yet it slip off the agenda as decisions about the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament are made.

Alternatively, the lack of contention around the PSW visa could enable those in favour of its reintroduction to succeed without significant political or public resistance.

The Conversation’s Manifesto Check deploys academic expertise to scrutinise the parties’ plans.