THE plight of the Brain family facing deportation from Scotland has put the controversial scrapping of graduate work visas in the spotlight. And now it has been claimed that Scotland is losing out under the scheme which replaced it because of lower average starting salaries for newly qualified students north of the border, according to a leading university think-tank.

Kathryn and Gregg Brain moved to Scotland from Australia in June 2011 with their son Lachlan on Kathryn's student visa, with the intention of moving to a two-year post-study work visa after completing her studies.

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However, shortly before they arrived the Home Office announced that scheme, which allowed students from outside the EU to remain and work in Scotland for two years after graduation, was being cancelled.

Under the new system – known as Tier 2 visas – graduates now have to secure a role with a registered sponsor which pays above a certain salary threshold. However, the lower average salary levels north of the border means Scotland is now at a disadvantage in being able to attract international students to live and work here, according to research carried out on behalf of university think-tank Million +.

It found the average salary for graduates aged between 22 and 24 is £18,600 in Scotland – well below the minimum £20,800 required for a Tier 2 application. The figure for men in Scotland almost meets the threshold at £20,600, but the average for women is just £17,000.

The only region where the typical starting salary for both men and women is higher than the required level is in London, where it averages out at £23,900.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million +, said: “We have argued with the UK Government that there are two problems with the Tier 2 route. One is that it is complex for employers, particularly for small employers.

“A second and important problem is that Tier 2 is linked to salary thresholds – it is about £20,800 and Scotland is typical of many parts of the UK, where the average is lower.”

She added: “This is a barrier both to universities operating in the international market, but also a barrier in terms of talent coming into the country.”

Gregg Brain said at the time the scrapping of the post-study work visas was announced they had already sold their house, shipped their belongings and were unaware of the announcement of the change in rules, which came into effect in 2012.

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The Brains, who live in Dingwall, are now in the situation that while their leave to stay in the UK runs out on Tuesday, they have both been offered jobs and are hoping to be given time to apply for a Tier 2 visa. Following publicity over their case, UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire last week said the family does not face an “imminent risk of deportation”.

Gregg Brain said: “A one-size-fits-all immigration policy for the entirety of the UK simply isn’t working and my own case underlines that.

“We are a family living and working in a sparsely populated and economically depressed area of the country, paying our own way, paying taxes and bringing with us a six-figure sum from our house sale which has been invested in this country.”

Ian Blackford, SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, who has been fighting the Brain family’s case, pointed out they had come to Scotland in “good faith”.

In March this year, a cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament recommended the reintroduction of a post-study work visa and published recommendations for how it could be achieved.

However a spokesman for the Scottish Government said the UK Government had failed to “meaningfully engage” on the issue.

He said: “Scotland’s immigration needs are different to those of the rest of the UK and the return of a post study work route would be an important economic lever of great benefit to Scotland.

“The Scottish Government has been calling for the return of the post study visa over a period of years now and we have overwhelming support for this issue in Scotland, across all major political parties, industry and throughout academia.

“Despite this, the UK Government has failed to positively and meaningfully engage with the Scottish Government to change the current system, and has not delivered on the Smith Commission recommendation in this area.”

The Home Office pointed to a previous report by the Migration Advisory Committee, saying it had not found a clear case for differentiation of income thresholds between the UK countries and as full-time earnings in Scotland are close to the UK average, adopting a regional approach for Tier 2 visas could lead to higher salary requirements in Scotland.

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It said it could not comment further than statements made last week by Immigration Minister James Brokenshire as the Brain family was still an ongoing case.