Sajid Javid: make it easier for overseas students to work in UK

Home secretary calls for more ‘flexible, sensible attitude’ to immigration

Sajid Javid has said he wants to see an end to tough rules on overseas students being allowed to stay in the UK to work, arguing for what he called a more “flexible, sensible attitude” to immigration.

In comments that go against Theresa May’s longstanding approach, the home secretary, who is among a crowded field hoping to succeed her, said he would loosen the current rules, which restrict overseas students to six months of work after finishing their studies.

“I want to see more international students come to our country,” Javid told an event in London organised by the thinktank British Future.

“If they’re coming here, studying in our great universities, if they want to work afterwards we should make it easier for them to stay and work, and not say, you’ve got to go back home, just for the sake of it. We need a more positive attitude to this. I think the country would welcome this.”

Javid reiterated the point in an article for the Financial Times, writing: “It makes no sense to send some of the brightest and most enterprising people in the world straight home after their time here.”

His announcement has been welcomed by Jo Johnson, the former universities minister who is seeking to amend the immigration bill to change the six-month limit back to its previous timeline of two years.

In a tweet, Johnson said he was delighted at the move, calling the planned change a “real win for UK soft power”.

At the British Future event, Javid reiterated his intention to scrap the Conservatives’ long-standing – and never met – official target to limit annual net migration into the UK to the tens of thousands.

“I’ve already said I would not have the target,” he said. “I just think it’s nonsense to set a target that you’re never going to meet. Also it should be led by what you think the country needs, and that changes over time as well.”

He spoke more broadly about the benefits of immigration, and how he felt that the control over numbers following Brexit could change public attitudes.

“I think it’s been fantastic for Britain,” Javid said. “I think we’d be a much worse society today – I don’t just mean economically, but I include that, and culturally, every way – if we didn’t have the approach to immigration we’ve had of successive governments over the last few decades.”

He added: “But I don’t think it’s about being obsessed about the overall numbers, as long as the number is controlled by your own government, about what you feel it needs.”