THE SNP chairman of Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee says he is “extremely disappointed” after the UK Government rejected its calls for a more flexible post-study work visa system for international students in Scotland.

Pete Wishart repeated the committee’s call for the Government to “engage constructively” with Scotland’s higher education institutions, and added: “Despite the almost universal support for improving post-study work schemes in Scotland, we have yet to see these factors have any influence on the direction of policy … the calls from Scotland are overwhelming, it is time for the UK Government to listen.”

In February, the committee concluded that the removal in 2012 of a scheme that allowed overseas graduates to work for two years after finishing their studies had made Scotland less attractive to students.

Its report cited a drop of 80 per cent in non-EU students remaining in the UK after graduating, and said change was necessary to address demo- graphic challenges north of the Border and fill skills gaps in areas such as health and finance.

The UK Government’s response, from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill, said the four current visa categories available to non-European Economic Area (EEA) graduates of UK universities “comprise an excellent post-study work offer”.

It said the previous system had been subject to “widespread abuse” which had “damaged the reputation of our education system”, and noted that visa applications from international students to Scottish universities had increased by 10 per cent since 2010.

“Applying different immigration rules to different parts of the UK would complicate the immigration system, harming its integrity, and cause difficulties for employers with a presence in more than one part of the UK,” it said.

“We have taken important steps to reform the student migration system and we have no plans to re-introduce a post-study work scheme that does not lead to skilled work and could reintroduce many or all of the issues we saw under the former tier 1 (post-study work) category.”

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The Government has come under fire for launching a pilot scheme – post-study work visas in all but name – at the English universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Imper-ial College London. It said this was aimed at simplifying the visa applic-ation process for Masters students and gives them an extra six months after the end of their course to find a graduate job under Tier 2 visa rules.

It said: “Should the pilot be a success, the Home Office will be considering expansion of the pilot further, including to highly-compliant institutions in Scotland.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell told the committee last week that in that eventuality, he would “champion” the case for extending it to Scotland.

Wishart told The National he would hold Mundell to that pledge: “David Mundell has repeatedly ruled out a post-study work scheme and any distinction for immigration issues for Scotland post Brexit.

“We’ll continue to push the cross- party consensus on this and hold him to looking at Scotland constructively after the pilot.”

Wishart added: “Our report and recommendations were based on extensive dialogue with business groups, the higher education sector and immigration lawyers, and would have provided for a more flexible system which better met the particular needs of Scotland.

“The Government must also speak to employers about the struggles they have in recruiting for key sectors. They must work with their Scottish counterparts to explore formal schemes that would allow those who come here to study to stay and contribute to the economy.”

Edinburgh University principal Sir Tim O’Shea told the committee that Scottish institutions depended on attracting the best talent from across the EU, and added: “The current situation is that British and Scottish universities have been damaged a bit by the Home Office visa restrictions.”