UK government says ‘No’ to volunteer labor


One of the many consequences of the new points-based system for UK visa distribution is the limitation imposed on non-EU student interns. The current migration regulations bar non-EU students from undertaking fulltime internships in the UK, effectively pronouncing a death sentence on thousands of UK internship programmes at universities around the world.

The objective of this new policy is simple, to protect UK jobs. The government assumes that a drastic reduction in free student labor will compel UK employers to pay EU citizens to do the work formerly done by non-EU interns. If the volunteer labor supply is depleted, organizations with internship programmes will be forced either to increase their expenses by hiring additional employees or do less work because they cannot afford to pay new staff. The points based system ensures that intern-dependent employers reduce either net profitability or productivity.

I grant that this is an oversimplification. It is possible that organizations that previously relied on non-EU interns might maintain their productivity levels by working more efficiently. It could also be argued that the time spent training interns diminishes organizational efficiency. Astute observers may even point out that intern-dependent employers represent a miniscule percentage of UK employers, so the impact on the economy will also be negligible.

Efficiency is a hallmark of free market economies, but it must be worked out in an unfettered marketplace not artificially imposed by regulation. Although the collective economy will notice little effects from the elimination of interns, market sectors containing an abundance of resource poor, intern-dependent organizations – unregistered charities in particular – will feel the effects of the points-based system most acutely.

The anti-intern policy is far from the top of the list of ill-advised policies set forth by the current regime (see capital gains tax reform, non-dom tax, et al.). Nonetheless, the policy is yet another example of regulation that obstructs free enterprise. Hopefully it will follow many of its poorly conceived counterparts to the policy graveyard.