A new permit allowing international students to work in the UK after they gain their degrees would secure vital investment, boost jobs and tell the world Sheffield is 'open to talent', the city's universities, business leaders and politicians have argued.
The proposal, put forward by Universities UK which is holding its annual conference at Sheffield Hallam University from today, would introduce a temporary global graduate visa.
Under the initiative, all higher education institutions registered to enrol migrant students from outside the EU would be able to sponsor them to search for and gain work experience for up to two years with no restriction on job level or salary - and there would also be no requirement for employer sponsorship.
This added flexibility would encourage international leavers to make a difference in towns and cities where average wages are lower than London. Time spent here would not count towards settlement in Britain.
City leaders are backing the idea, which it is hoped would make Sheffield a more attractive destination for students from abroad - particularly post-Brexit - while supporting the local economy.
In a joint statement, Professors Sir Keith Burnett and Sir Chris Husbands, the vice-chancellors of Sheffield University and Hallam University respectively, said they strongly supported the proposal and believed it was 'an essential step'.
"In an increasingly globalised world, we know these students and graduates bring not only investment, but skills and perspectives which are valued by UK students and local employers," they said. "Sending out a strong message that Sheffield is a welcoming city, which is open to global talent, makes sense for everyone."
A new poll from ComRes has revealed increased support for international students and graduates in the UK. Almost three-quarters - 72 per cent - of the 4,301 British adults polled thought international students should be able to stay for a year or more.
Richard Wright, chief executive of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said: "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."
And the Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, said: "International students contribute over £160 million to the Sheffield economy, creating thousands of local jobs. But we could do better. UK recruitment has flat lined, while the US, Canada and Australia have increased numbers by 20 per cent over the last few years.
"Offering a post-study work visa has been central to their success. We need to catch up and, at the same time, give local businesses the chance to benefit from the talents of our international graduates. This new visa will boost jobs in Sheffield."
Six years ago the Government scrapped the post-study work visa which had allowed international - non-EU - students to stay in the UK and work for up to 24 months after graduation. But the country remains the second most popular destination for these students, after the United States. The US and Canada offer international graduates the opportunity to stay and work for up to three years after graduation, and Australia for up to four years.
A Home Office spokesman said: "There is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the UK. We recognise the cultural and financial contribution which international students make to the UK, which is why we have developed an excellent post-study offer. Graduates can stay if they get a graduate-level job, get an internship or apply to set up a business in the UK. Completing PhD students are also able to stay for an additional year to gain work experience or set up as an entrepreneur."