James Dyson speaks out for UK Student Visas

January 8, 2015

Sir James Dyson, the world-renowned inventor and engineer, called on the UK government to look again its plan to ensure overseas students leave the UK once they have completed their studies. Under a future proposal that has been announced by the Home Office Minister, Theresa May, upon graduation students will be asked to return to their country of origin. However, the prominent innovator, best known for his cyclonic vacuum cleaners, claimed that the change in policy would condemn the country to nothing more than economic decline in the long run.

Writing in the British press, the technology expert said that any move to make the UK less welcoming for overseas students who have completed their studies would be short-sighted. “I'm not an expert on immigration, but I do worry about the country's ability to make products and to make engineering breakthroughs and scientific progress,” he said. “And, yes, that means making money for the UK economy, too,” he added.

The debate over immigration, including the ability of students to stay in the UK after completing their courses, has been a tricky political issue over the course of the last year. This was ramped up as a new party, Ukip, which is less favourable to immigration, gained in the European Parliamentary elections in September and later won two seats in parliament following defections from the Conservative party. The Ukip leadership – and others in the political mainstream of the UK – have called for a points-based system for skilled immigration, like that which exists in Canada or Australia, for example. However, Dyson and other people in highly skilled professions have called for less dramatic measures to be taken which will keep the UK open to the best and brightest from around the world.

Mr Dyson said that the concept of training up individuals from overseas only to kick them out of the country once they were ready to take on gainful employment was a bit counter intuitive. “Bright sparks are drawn to Britain for a good number of reasons,” he said. “The UK's universities are amongst the best you can find in the world and this is particularly so in the fields of science and engineering.” However, Dyson went on to say that the Home Office would like to wave goodbye to the sharp minds who have been welcomed to the country as students the moment “their mortarboards land on college lawns.” 

The Home Secretary has been widely reported as wanting a future Conservative government – following the general election that is due in May - to work towards “zero net student migration”. In what many see as a populist move designed to attract votes, this means making sure foreign students leave the country once their study visa expires. Mrs May told parliament that if nothing is done about the immigrant student population, then there would be about 600,000 overseas students from outside of the European Union coming to Britain to study every year by the 2020s. 

However, this argument was viewed with widespread scepticism by a number of MPs from the Labour party and those within her own party, too. Echoing Dyson's calls for a more open approach to student immigration in the UK, the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, challenged the economic sense of requiring newly-qualified students to leave the UK's economy. The Conservative MP, James Gray, who represents the area where Dyson's engineering plant is based, also demanded to know the impact of May's plans on businesses. “How would you answer my constituent Sir James Dyson, who states that automatically sending all students home on completion of their studies would have dire consequences for business?” he asked. “Firms like his rely on engineers, scientists and others professionals from foreign countries,” he added.

Joining in with the criticism of the plan, Sir Peter Luff, another Conservative MP, demanded assurances that any efforts to curb student immigration would not have a detrimental effect on the UK's higher education system or prevent British companies from accessing the skills they can only source internationally. Although Mrs May went on to defend her plans, no change in the current regulations is expected to be enforced prior to the election later this year. Only after a new government is formed will any such plans be put into practice or, indeed, rejected. In the meantime, the chorus of disapproval for making the UK less attractive to recent foreign-born graduates continues to grow.

Dyson concluded his criticism of the proposals to make students apply for British jobs only after they have returned home by saying that it is “not exactly motivating and not exactly practical, either.”  

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