New immigration rules are "hugely damaging"
for design in London

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New immigration rules are "hugely damaging" for design in London

News: leading figures from London's design institutions have warned that new immigration rules which make it harder for international students to stay in the UK after graduation could be a "disaster" for the city.

Kieran Long, senior curator at the V&A museum, described London as "a crossroads for great creative people to come and learn from their peers," but warned: "Anything that stops that would be a disaster."

Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic said: "London has really based its success on having 150 years of great art schools. They have been somewhat industrialised, got too big, and the government has also got quite curious about allowing students to stay once they've graduated. We need to be an open city, that's what London always been."

Last month the UK government announced changes to immigration rules that add "genuineness" interviews to the existing points-based hurdles students must clear if they wish to extend their leave to remain in the country once their course ends.

The new rules also introduce the power to refuse an application for a student visa extension where the applicant cannot speak English.

"It would be a disaster for London," agreed Nigel Coates, professor emeritus at the Royal College of Art. "For creative people, London is the most attractive city in the world, partly because of its schools. But the government, confused as always, seems to be shooting itself - and us - in the foot."

"It's making it very, very difficult for AA students," said Sadie Morgan, president of the Architectural Association school. "They give huge amounts to the UK economy. It's a really big issue. It's damaging and short-sighted of the UK government. They're looking to be doing something aggressive about immigration but it is hugely damaging for schools like ours."

Architectural firms can apply for visas on behalf of overseas graduates they want to employ, but Morgan said it was a "convoluted and expensive" process.

Sudjic added: "London is a remarkably successful place at attracting really smart, gifted young designers. They come to study here and lots of them build a practice here, not necessarily based on clients here, but on clients all around the world. London is a great place to be but it can't be complacent and one of the things it has to do is go on attracting smart and new people and get them to stay."

"London is welcoming, enterprising and full of opportunities", said Max Fraser, deputy director of the London Design Festival. "It's multiculturalism is one of its great selling points. We want to retain the best talent and the new visa restrictions are not conducive to that."

London mayor Boris Johnson is understood to share the institutions' concerns and convened a meeting with leading London arts schools this summer to discuss the issue. However, the mayor has no influence over national immigration policy. The UK's Conservative government introduced the rules to appease backbench MPs, who demanded a tougher stance on immigration.

Dezeen spoke to leading figures in the design world during the London Design Festival last month to get their views on London's position as a centre for design and the reasons for its current strength as a creative hub. The pre-eminence of London's arts schools and its openness to immigration were the most-cited reason for the city's standing as one of the world's leading international centres for design.

"I think London has always been a place thats incredibly tolerant of new things, of people arriving in the city," said Kieran Long. "We know that the city is based on immigration, and the people that are already here tolerating them and we're really comfortable with that. In terms of design and architecture, we have some of the greatest schools in the world, a lot of people come to study here."

He added: "I think there are threats to that, certainly we should keep London as open as it possibly can be and any political agenda that's about closing that down somehow, to me, is anathema to what London really is."

Sudjic said: "London is a great place to be but it can't be complacent and one of the things it has to do is go on attracting smart and new people and get them to stay."

Alex de Rijke, dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, added that funding cuts and the rising reputation of schools abroad presented new threats to London. "Inevitably you produce a lot of architects that stay for a while then go and forge a career, whereas perhaps in the future that will not be the case as emerging economies all over the world will inevitably take over cultural production. So I see, not necessarily a lessening in the influence of education here, but certainly more of a diaspora of talent."

"As other universities around the world offer amazing opportunities for the global student population, it's increasingly difficult to be able to offer added value," agreed Morgan. "The added value is being able to stay and work in the UK because of the huge kudos you get from working for UK practices."

In an interview with Dezeen during the festival Patrizia Moroso, creative director of leading Italian furniture brand Moroso, praised London's openness to students from overseas and contrasted it with the situation in Italy, where she says underinvestment in schools is leading to the collapse of its creative industries.

"The schools [in Italy] are collapsing," she said. "When I see our universities and design schools, they are not the best in the world, they are not so important unfortunately. If you don't give importance to learning, not immediately but in ten years you lose a generation of material culture."

Last month the mayor of London proposed a new "London visa" to allow exceptional creative talents to bypass the lengthy new visa application system to set up businesses in London. He told the Financial Times (£): "It is a clear message to the elite of Silicon Valley or the fashionistas of Beijing that London is the place they should come to develop ideas, build new businesses and be part of an epicentre for global talent."

  • Bertha

    The way that graduating visa students are expected to find work sooner than non visa students already means that a wealth of award winning talent is “sent home” before they are able to contribute to British economy, which they are more than willing to do.

  • Alex

    The two year Post Study Work Visa was cancelled at my final year at the AA… consider paying an average of £15,000 per annum on just school fees alone and being told that you have to leave by September 31st if you don’t secure a job. That was harsh.

  • Lee

    It seems that on a national level the government needs to be seen to be doing more to curb immigration, yet London needs this. It surprises me that the government doesn’t issue a ‘London visa’ allowing people to live and work in London where there is the demand for their skills. I also think that sending students home after they’ve completed their studies is missing an opportunity. Too many of my peers have now returned to their countries as they couldn’t stay on in London due to Visa restrictions. A real pity.

    • Northern Lad

      What about the poorer British born students many of which cannot find work in London because they can’t compete with rich foreign students. Their wealth insulates them to the realities of living in the capital and their low pay rates subsidise the “cool” London architectural fraternity.

      • pipo

        It is an illusion to think that by curbing immigration you will create chances for less fortunate nationals. By curbing immigration and globalisation we’re rather putting ourselves outside of the global creative industry.

      • Dome

        I see your point, but I think this is a different matter. As a British or EU citizen you can work (doing anything) or live off your parents, or even off unemployment benefits until you get a proper/dream/decent job. Instead, if a foreigner is wealthy or not, it makes no difference if he/she can not get a visa. Doesn’t matter if your parents are sending you money or not while you are applying for jobs, if by the end of your student visa you don’t have a job that can/want to sponsor you, you are out as simple as that and wealth can’t do anything about it.

        It’s not about keeping lazy foreigners out or those that work in the fast food industry, it is about giving the chance to qualified and talented students to stay and contribute back to the economy. For example, keeping the PSW visa is a good option. Foreigners get a chance to look for a job and prove to their employers that they deserve and have the talent to be sponsor.

  • pantau

    London’s schools may have a good reputation and yes there are plenty of great design studios. But let’s face it – the city is an overpriced pit. No one with a regular income can stay there without making big compromises on their quality of life.

  • AA graduate

    I totally agree with Northern Lad. The job market is already saturated with unemployed UK residents who can’t find work due to jobs snapped up by foreign students in a rush to remain in the UK. Rather than poaching foreign talent to remain in the UK, we should be encouraging and developing homegrown talent. I’m glad such strict restrictions are in place.

  • Arch part 1 graduate

    As a recent Architecture graduate (international) it’s been a really bad experience. I applied to get my visa extended and got refused a Cas on the basis of not having a job yet, but how am I to get a job when my current visa expires in a few weeks?

    Considering I enrolled for the RIBA post part 1 (4th year) at my undergraduate university and paid my fees, it has been such a let down so now I will be returning home. As for the people who think international students are ‘rich’ folks thinking of ‘extending their stay’ in the UK, I truly hope you get enlightened and speak without coming across as ignorant as you do not know the sacrifices we’ve made for a good education with equal opportunities.

  • Concerned Citizen

    What a pity that the UK must send out of Kingdom to find good talent.