16 June 2016

S5M-00247 Post-study Work Visas (Rural Communities)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani):
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00247, in the name of Kate Forbes, on rural communities and the post-study work visa. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the case of the Brain family, who migrated from Australia to the Scottish Highlands; understands that the Brain family intended to apply for a post-study work visa in order to remain in Scotland; believes that attracting young families to live in rural areas such as Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch is essential for the economic and social success of rural Scotland, and believes that rural communities would benefit from a new post-study work visa scheme.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I, too, congratulate Kate Forbes on obtaining time for the debate. I thank my work placement student for the week—Daisy Collins—who has done the research and written the notes that I will use during my speech.

Scotland has been greatly enhanced by the diversity that comes with immigration—people from different nations who have freely chosen to build their lives here. It is hard to imagine any area of human activity that has not benefited from that input—economically, politically, socially and culturally; in our classrooms, surgeries and elsewhere; and in our towns and rural villages. Especially in remote areas, the endeavours of people from different backgrounds are evident to us all and continue to be overwhelmingly positive.

However, the current rules that have been imposed by Westminster, and which we have been discussing, are driven by the needs of another area in these islands: the populous—some might say overpopulous—parts of the south. Certain parts of the Conservative Party have rather cynically taken the opportunity to use immigration to pander to other agendas, which has resulted in backward-looking immigration rules that help no one and which utterly fail to reflect the stark divide between Scotland’s needs—and, almost certainly, those of disadvantaged areas in England—and those of the rest of the UK.

That is to the detriment of our economy, our education system and, in particular, the rural communities that are the focus of the motion. It is for that reason that I support the motion to reinstate the post-study work visa. We need a fair and robust system that is sensitive, intelligent and designed to support the requirements of all the countries of the UK. When, in 2012, the coalition Government decided to scrap the visa, our potential as a nation was fantastically weakened and all our futures were affected by that.

If we continue to support and allow unnecessary barriers, we all suffer—in the short term and the long term. We miss out on the enormous gene pool that comes from international students. In particular, there is a direct and very personal effect on the Brain family and other families. It is a bankrupt policy whose time for abolition has come. We are losing a well of talent. We want to accept in Scotland people who will train with us and develop our society. Otherwise, we get a Brain drain.

We have heard from a number of members about the effect on the number of international students coming to Scotland, especially given the counter-attractions of other nations. The impact of that decline is economic as well as practical and moral, and it is very much to be regretted.

Historically, there has been emigration from our rural communities, which does not help. My family, like other Scottish families, is represented in countries including Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Denmark, and even the odd place like Lebanon. If we prevent people from coming here, the odds are that our people will find it more difficult to travel, which helps no one.

We have to strengthen and enhance our economy and our cultural diversity. The current policy does not help us, and the long-term effects are obvious and depressing. It is time that we used a post-study work visa scheme as a lever to tackle depopulation in our rural communities. We need a sensible post-study work visa system because the current arrangements simply do not work.


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