SCOTLAND needs the full powers of independence to boost the country’s economy and grow the working age population through retaining skilled graduates, according to the SNP.

The intervention follows reports on Monday that Scotland’s population growth is lagging behind small independent neighbouring countries, and is expected to be 500,000 lower than it would be if we matched trends in Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland.

The SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission, published last year, emphasised that one of the ways to help boost the population was the need to retain international students after completion of their studies at Scottish universities.

Provision used to exist to enable overseas students to remain in Scotland for two years after they had graduated allowing businesses and the wider economy to benefit from their skills.

But Theresa May scrapped the post-study work visas when she was Home Secretary in 2012.

A pilot to look into the possibility of re-introducing the visas was later introduced at the University of Bath, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and Imperial College London. No Scots universities were involved in the initial pilot, but Glasgow and Edinburgh universities were added when the pilot was extended.

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Currently, most non-EU students have to leave within three months of graduation while the status of students from EU countries is uncertain given Brexit – with fears that fewer skilled graduates will stay and work in Scotland if we leave the EU.

Retaining just 5000 more international graduates in Scotland per year would deliver an economic boost of £1.5 billion per year within a decade – whilst also plugging skills gaps in key sectors and addressing the productivity challenge in the Scottish economy.

The SNP has said that independence would allow such a move from day one – with all of Scotland’s communities benefitting from these common-sense changes.

Commenting, Tom Arthur MSP said: “Westminster is holding Scotland back – stopping us from retaining talented graduates who want to make Scotland their home and contribute to our society.

“We face a huge demographic challenge and need to grow our working-age population to fund our public services. And we need more international students to stay here to plug skills gaps in key sectors, to increase productivity and to boost our economy.

“The SNP has repeatedly called for the transfer of these much needed powers, and yet stubborn ideological opposition from the Tories stands in the way of progress – costing Scotland £1.5bn each year.

“Fundamentally, we want Scotland to be open to the world as a welcoming destination for those who want to live, work and study here. But Brexit, and a new prime minister fundamentally opposed to further devolution, could set this ambition back substantially.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need the full powers of independence to tailor a system that works in our interests, not against them.”