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Everyone is a high potential individual

The Home Office’s new ‘High Potential Individual’ visa scheme does nothing but perpetuate the toxic, ‘good immigrant’ narrative

This week, a new ‘High Potential Individual’ visa scheme was announced by the Home Office. The idea is simple: graduates from top-performing universities outside of the UK can come to the country to work for two years, without needing a job offer beforehand. Sounds harmless, right? Except it’s anything but.

Of the selected 50 universities on the list of ‘top-performing universities’, none are in Africa, South America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central Asia or South Asia. The scheme also perpetuates the idea that some people are deserving of rights, while others are not, based on their economic value. On top of all of this, applicants would need to fork over thousands of pounds for the visa itself.

To state the obvious, Western rankings of the “top 50 selected universities” in the world are undoubtedly subject to Western-centric academic standards – hence why no institutions from the Global South even feature. Plus, the students attending these ‘top’ universities are likely to come from elite and privileged backgrounds already, with families that can help pay extortionate university and accommodation fees as well as support rising living costs. Sure, this won’t be the case for everyone – bursaries and affirmative action exist, after all – but students who access such schemes are unquestionably an exception, rather than the rule. In the UK, for example, 17 Russell Group unis have been recently accused of failing to recruit enough working class students, and the US is notorious for its inaccessible college system

Yet this is all besides the point. Every person is a ‘high potential individual’ if given the right tools to self-actualise in a well-equipped and just society. A degree from a university that appears on ranking tables doesn’t give someone more or less ‘potential’. The scheme also begs the question: ‘potential’ for what? Better access to secure work?

This harks back to when the government introduced the ‘Australian-style’ points system in 2020 to crack down on ‘low-skilled’ migrant workers just before the COVID-19 pandemic. These were the same workers who were later hailed as “heroes” during consecutive lockdowns. The Home Office similarly promised that “talented individuals” would be able to apply for a work visa under the new points-based system, stoking rhetoric about who is deserving of work and who isn’t.

“The best way to stop exploitation and undercutting at work is to pay everyone the same rate for the job and give them the same workplace rights, regardless of immigration status,” Rosa Crawford wrote for the Trades Union Congress in 2020. The same report voiced concerns that post-Brexit changes on work visas would “make it easier for employers to exploit migrant workers on insecure contracts and use them to undercut others, as well as increasing discrimination against BME communities.”

The language we use also matters. There is no such thing as ‘low-skilled’ people or jobs, as all work requires a unique set of skills. ‘Low-skilled’ implies that the onus is on the individual to gain ‘better’ skills, when it should be on employers to provide the right resources to support their workers. Similarly, the 'High Potential Individual’ visa suggests that there are also ‘low potential individuals’. Given the government’s continued racist treatment of immigrants, I’ll let you guess what groups predictably fall into this category. 

As always with the Tories, the ‘High Potential Individual’ visa scheme has to be viewed in context with all the other inhumane immigration policies they have proposed or rolled out in recent years. The Hostile Environment has put marginalised immigrants through hell and now the first group of asylum seekers are set to be deported to Rwanda on 14 June.

Increasingly, it feels like there are too many horrible things the Home Office has done (and continues to do) to list, which is why resistance is more important than ever. Whether it’s the spinning of ‘good immigrant’ narratives through new visa schemes or the illegal deportation of refugees and asylum seekers (some of whom are especially at risk due to their protected identities), all of these elitist, racist, ableist and xenophobic policies are interconnected. 

Ultimately, people shouldn’t have to justify their existence by performing arbitrary definitions of ‘success’, in order to come to the UK for long-term work. Yes, everyone can be a ‘high potential individual’, but they shouldn’t have to be in order access to secure work – and be seen as human.