Brexit Britain, for all its flaws, has been welcoming to me. When the UK was a member of the European Union, the only way to control immigration was to crack down on non-EU visas. Ten years ago, Americans like me who studied in Britain and wanted to stay needed to earn £35,000 a year (which would be £47,000 now). That was unrealistic for a recent graduate. After Brexit, Boris Johnson brought back the old post-study visa, giving us two years to find work and requiring a more achievable minimum salary of £26,000. Finally, international students who won places at British universities could meet their EU equals as, well, equals. We had a realistic chance of staying here to work, live and contribute.
The Boris visa was introduced at a time when Brexit was expected to lower immigration levels. As things turned out, the long recovery from lockdown and furlough led to a shortage of native workers and as a result, net migration reached three times pre-Brexit levels. It’s for this reason that Johnson and Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, want the visa salary threshold to be pushed back to £40,000. Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, is said to be in general agreement along with Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister. I finished university last year, a year after the graduate visa was brought back. That makes me one of the lucky foreign graduates to catch what may turn out to be only a three-year window of opportunity to work here.
With a general election due next year, coupled with public concern about immigration, it’s easy to see the reason for this proposed policy change, But I’m not sure that the past week’s shift to what Badenoch called a ‘strongest measures possible’ approach is going to improve things in Britain, as the country will lose out on tens of thousands of skilled, well-educated young people.