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Blaming Students and Businesses Is Not the Answer

28/08/2015 17:05 BST | Updated 28/08/2016 10:59 BST

Immigration minister James Brokenshire has blamed businesses and students for rising migration figures.

The Conservative MP said that the number of foreign born students and the "reliance that business continues to place on migrant labour" were responsible for the increase. Net migration - the difference between those arriving and those emigrating - rose by 94,000 last year to an all-time high of 330,000.

The solution, the minister said, was to make sure students leave after they complete their studies. To do this, the government plans to force graduates, no matter how talented, to leave the country and re-apply for a visa before potentially returning, rather than continuing the less bureaucratic system currently in place which allows students to apply for a work visa while still living in the UK.

The immigration minister's criticisms make zero economic sense. Education, particularly higher education, is one of this country's great success stories. Every year thousands of students come here to learn and along the way they become lifelong friends of Britain. Nonsensically, the government now seem intent on making this whole process harder.

Successive governments have failed to deliver an education system which equips enough of our young people with the skills needed by employers. It is imperative we fix this, but until that has been achieved, many businesses will continue to need access to international skills.

Nor is this an issue which is limited to the private sector. The NHS wouldn't function without overseas staff. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have reported that 45 per cent of paediatric healthcare workers come from non-EEA countries because not enough are being trained in Britain. As long as these skills shortages remain, it is important that both the private and public sector are able to bring in the required workers from across the world.

Improving the skills of British workers is the right goal for business and the government but it won't happen overnight. It takes time to train school-leavers and graduates in the skills for which the UK economy is currently experiencing a shortage.

In the meantime, the UK education system should continue to be a tool to import the world's greatest minds and most importantly, to keep them here, so that it is our economy, not our competitors, that benefit.

These students are drawn to the UK for good reason - our universities are among the best in the world, particularly for science and engineering. These are areas where there is already a shortage of available talent so the idea that rather than encouraging the best international talent to stay here and fill our skills gap, we train them up and immediately kick them out is an abrupt departure from the government's expressed claim to be "business friendly."

Shutting the door to highly-trained international graduates will only hurt business and lead to a loss of important skills at a time when our economy needs them most. The government should instead focus its efforts on improving our education system. Blaming employers who, because skills shortages are rife, need to look to the global talent pool to find the employees they need, is not the answer to gaining more home-grown talent.