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Theresa May's plan to expel foreign students attacked by Sir James Dyson

One of Britain’s most prominent inventors and business leaders, Sir James Dyson, has described Theresa May’s plan to expel international students after graduation as a short-term vote winner. He believes that May's plan will harm the economy by the UK losing valuable ideas from the brightest minds from around the world. “Our borders must remain open to the world’s best,” he writes in the Guardian.

Sir James Dyson.  Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Rex/The Guardian Sir James Dyson. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Rex/The Guardian
04-01-2015 by The Guardian

One of Britain’s most prominent inventors and business leaders, Sir James Dyson, has described Theresa May’s plan to expel international students after graduation as a short-term vote winner. Her plan, he believes, will harm the economy valuable ideas from the brightest foreign minds will be lost to the UK.

Theresa May, the home secretary, announced last month that she wants the Conservatives to make a manifesto commitment to force students from outside the EU, once they have completed their degree, to leave the UK and apply for a new visa from abroad.

Dyson echoes criticism of the proposal from the academic and scientific communities.  He said that it will make the shortage of scientists and engineers in the UK worse.

“Our borders must remain open to the world’s best,” he writes in the Guardian. “Give them our knowledge, allow them to develop their own, and permit them to apply it here on our shores. Their ideas and inventiveness will create technology to export around the world … May’s immigration plans simply force the nimble minds we nurture to return home and fuel competition from overseas. Why would they return? Often they hail from emerging economies and nations that respect science and engineering.”

"The Campaign for Science and Engineering said the proposal was at odds with the government’s commitment to make Britain the best place in the world to do science."

Immigration is shaping up to be a key election battleground.  Not surprising since the Conservatives are particularly wary of Ukip’s impact on their vote.

Present rules give overseas graduates up to four months to find a suitable job before leaving the UK.  Some already view this window as too short and less than the 12 months compared to what is offered by the likes of the US, Australia and Canada.

Dyson, who is best known as the inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, said that he accepts that there may be an immigration problem.  However, he believes that May’s plan was “a short-term vote winner that leads to long-term economic decline”.

The prime minister, David Cameron, praised Dyson as “a great British success story” last November, after the company announced it was investing a further £1.5bn into research and development to create future products.  This investment would create up to 3,000 jobs in the UK.

According to Dyson the homegrown postgraduate population is “painfully thin” and with nearly 200,000 international students researching technology at British universities, that is “200,000 ideas and inventions to lose”.

Dyson says: “Yes, these students net Britain nearly £7bn each year [in fees]. But sending them home with new technology developed here presents very good value to our competitor nations. Instead our education system should be a tool to import the world’s greatest minds. And, most importantly, to keep them here, so that it is our economy – and our culture – that benefits.”

He said that the company he founded had moved assembly to Malaysia 13 years ago.  This was necessary because of insufficient government backing for manufacturing. Now, he believes, the government is “falling dangerously out of love with conceiving technology too”.

"Universities UK has warned that May’s proposals risk increasing the perception that Britain does not welcome international students. In 2011-12, the number of overseas students taking up places at English universities fell for the first time in 29 years."

A Conservative party spokesman is reported to have said: “We are still deciding what will be in our manifesto and will outline its contents in due course.”