STUDENTS, staff and principals at Scotland’s universities are calling for the reintroduction of a post-study work visa for international students, warning businesses and public services are missing out on vital talent without it.

Universities Scotland (US), which represents the country’s 19 higher education institutions, is calling on candidates for the General Election to include a system to allow international students to stay and work here for a few years after they graduate. A previous scheme was abolished by Theresa May in 2012, when she was home secretary.

A joint manifesto published by US, NUS Scotland and the Universities and Colleges Union Scotland (UCU), says the country’s higher education institutions attract 31,000 students from outside the European Union, generating significant economic and cultural benefits. However, current immigration policies make it difficult for such students to stay and work here, forcing a young and highly-skilled demographic to return home.

Alisdair Sim, director of US, said this means Scotland’s business and public sector miss out on talent. He said: “The next UK Government is going to have to take a new approach to immigration as it moves on with Brexit.

“This election gives politicians a chance to send a strong and united message to the next Government that Scotland’s wants an immigration policy that works for us.”

Mr Sim said there was cross-party support for the return of a post-study work visa in Scotland, while public opinion also supports it. A recent poll showed 73 per cent of people north of the Border back allowing international students to remain in Scotland to work for a period after they graduate. Two thirds of those questioned said such students could help to generate jobs, while only 27 per cent saw them as immigrants.

Mr Sim added: “We value living and working amongst people from across the world. We want that talent to come and we want to keep our highly-skilled international students for the benefit of our economy and society. Scotland has set a different policy on immigration before. It is entirely possible for the next UK Government to make this happen for Scotland again.”

The manifesto also calls on politicians to guarantee the rights of 4,500 staff from the EU and European Economic Area who work in Scotland’s universities, and a continued role for the UK in Erasmus+, a major European student exchange programme.

The National Union of Students backed the calls. Its Scotland president Vonnie Sandlan said: “We strongly believe students from outside the UK – be that within the UK or beyond it – bring immense cultural, economic and educational benefits to our universities and colleges as well as wider Scottish society.

“In addition, Scottish sudents also benefit from the chance to study elsewhere in the EU and it is vital these doors of opportunity do not shut as a consequence of Brexit.”

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU, said: “To avoid a brain drain of international talent we need to send a strong message that staff and students from around the world are welcome in Scotland.”