UK’s Focus on Attracting International Talent

In recent years a number of countries have revised their immigration policies with the objective of attracting skilled professionals as well as international students. While Canada has taken the lead in this direction, other countries have also followed suit. The high potential individual’ (HPI) route introduced by the UK is an important example in this context. Under this scheme, graduates of universities which rank amongst the top 50, globally, in at least two of the leading higher education rankings — the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings or The Academic Ranking of World Universities – are eligible to apply for a UK work visa. While students with a bachelor’s or master’s degree can apply for a 2 year visa those with a PHD degree can apply for 3 year visa. An individuals can only apply for a student visa, under the HPI route if the course is not eligible for a student visa. 

Institutions eligible for the HPI scheme are; 20 US Universities in 2021 (including top institutions like Harvard and MIT) and institutions from Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and China. 

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak while commenting on HPI said: “The route means that the UK will grow as a leading international hub for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.”

The HPI is part of the post Brexit immigration policy, based on the points system, introduced by the Boris Johnson government.

One of the major shortcomings of the HPI route is that aside from Chinese universities, institutions from developing countries, in Asia, Latin America and Africa, have been excluded from the list of universities which are eligible for this program. This sends out a wrong message to talented individuals from developing countries. 

Significantly, UK is home not just to a large diaspora from developing countries especially India, Pakistan, Bangladesh but also a large number of professionals and skilled professionals.  Indian students account for the third largest group within international students. In 2022, the number of applications received, from India, for under graduate students was estimated at 8,660, this was double the number of students who had applied in 2019 (4,690). 

The other shortcoming is that under the HPI program, the quality of an institution is given precedence over individual calibre. A lot of talented individuals, especially from developing countries, are not able to make it to top institutions which are eligible under HPI. Many of the expats based in UK who have excelled in different vocations would have not studied at the institutions which are recognised by the HPI.

Apart from attracting skilled professionals, UK has also been trying to woo more international students. The UK Government has set a target of hosting 6,00000 international students by 2030 (currently it hosts an estimated 5,50,000 international students).

With an eye on attracting more international students, UK had introduced the Graduate visa – referred to as post study work visa in July 2021. Under this arrangement students studying at top UK universities are eligible to work for three years after the completion of their respective courses. As of 2018/2019  international students studying in the UK contributed a net economic benefit of $35.9 billion to the UK’s economy. 

While for very long, Chinese students accounted for the largest group amongst the international student community in UK, the latter has been trying to attract students from other countries, though Chinese still are the most dominant group. In 2020/2021, Indian students enrolled in first year graduate and undergraduate courses rose from 41,815 in 2019/2020 to 53,015 in 2020/21 (Indians accounted for a whopping 19% of Non-EU enrolments in UK). In a post pandemic world, this number is likely to increase not just because of the revisions which are being made to student and work visas, but also because UK was one country which never closed its borders to international students, even at the peak of the covid19 pandemic. The UK-India FTA which is likely to be concluded by October 2022 is also likely to address logistical issues, pertaining to both Indian students and professionals, such as visa fees for work and student visas. Both countries are also exploring the possibility of an arrangement, similar to that of a UK-Australia FTA, whereby young Indians can work in UK for a period of up to three years.

A report published in 2021, stated that there was potential for UK to attract more students from developing countries like Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam.

While the HPI may be able to attract talent, it needs to be more inclusive. Given its historical linkages with other parts of the world, geographical location, soft power and numerous other advantages, the UK has the potential to attract more skilled professionals as well as international students. This will however require a clear vision, bold political leadership and innovative thinking.

[Photo by Eduard STOICA, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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