Universities and businesses in Sheffield are backing calls for a new visa to allow qualified international students to work in skilled jobs for a period after graduation. 

The visa would allow a wider range of employers to benefit from access to skilled graduates from around the world, making Sheffield a more attractive destination for international students, while supporting the local economy and businesses.

According to Universities UK, the move would allow the UK to compete with other popular destinations such as Australia and Canada who have more welcoming student visa policies.

Recent studies have shown the significant contribution international students make to towns and cities across Britain, including Sheffield, making an annual contribution to the UK economy of more than £20bn (HEPI report).

A Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) analysis found that the 2,456 international students who started their studies in the Sheffield Central constituency in 2015/16 will contribute £226 million each year to the economy during their studies – equivalent to £1,961 per constituent per annum in the constituency.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, and Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said: “The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University strongly support this proposal which we believe is an essential step to make Sheffield, and the whole of the UK, more attractive to the international students and graduates who make such a vital contribution to our community and economy.

“In an increasingly globalised world, we know also that these students and graduates bring not only investment, but skills and perspectives which are valued by UK students and local employers. Sending out a strong message that Sheffield is a welcoming city, which is open to global talent, makes sense for everyone.”

Under the new visa proposal, universities would be able to sponsor graduates to search for and gain work experience in the UK for up to two years. This would be on a more flexible basis than currently permitted, without restrictions on job level or salary, and without an employer sponsorship requirement. This would encourage international graduates to live and work in cities where average wages are lower than London, but where their skills and continued contribution to the local economy makes a real difference.

The proposal has also been supported by civic and business leaders in Sheffield. Speaking on behalf of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, its Chief Executive Richard Wrightsaid: “It is very important to the future prosperity of Sheffield that the UK has a globally competitive offer to international students who make such an important contribution to our local economy and to the skills businesses need to trade and win orders around the world.“Making the UK and Sheffield more attractive to these talented young people is a win-win approach and will secure this vital inward investment for local industry and people.”

In a film, developed by the UK-wide #WeAreInternational campaign led by the University of Sheffield, business owners and leaders have shared their stories of how the city’s vibrant community of around 10,000 international students has had a positive impact on Sheffield.

In it, Mark Parsons, co-founder of Studio Polpo Architects, emphasised the vital contribution of student skills to the city’s economy and the jobs and affluence which are then shared by the whole community: “There’s such a lot to be gained from international students in terms of their experience and their knowledge. I think it’s often underexplored what these students bring in life experiences, the different things they’ve done and the different ways of working from their home countries.”

The University of Sheffield and its Students’ Union founded the #WeAreInternational campaign, which is supported by hundreds of universities, businesses and organisations globally, to celebrate the rich contribution international students bring to the UK and is urging the government to support them in word and deed.

In June 2016, Sheffield’s universities, college, MPs and city leaders united to send out a strong message that Sheffield is a global city which warmly welcomes students from all over the world through signing a joint statement of support.