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Boris Johnson’s government has announced that international students could qualify for a new graduate route following completion of studies.  Currently, graduates are only allowed four-months to find work, and if they fail, they must leave the country.

This is a dramatic step away from former Prime Minister, Theresa May’s policies, designed to restrict the number of migrants coming into or being permitted to stay in the country.  In 2012, as Home Secretary, she scrapped the two-year post-study work visa on the grounds it was “too generous”.  

Why is the government bringing back the two-year post-study work visa?

The overseas student market is worth £26bn to the UK.  Following the 2012 reduction in the time permitted for international graduates to remain in Britain, the number of people coming to the UK to study began to fall.  In 2018, the BBC reported that Australia was overtaking the UK as the second most popular destination for international study, behind America. Furthermore, Canada has also carved out a slice of the lucrative foreign student market, further threatening Britain’s position.

At the time, Professor Simon Marginson, co-chair of the Higher Education Commission’s inquiry into international students confirmed:

“UK higher education is still highly valued internationally, but the government has held down the growth of international student numbers for five years, by limiting new student numbers and post-study work visas.

“Meanwhile, competitor nations are strongly promoting their international education.”

Another reason perhaps driving the change in policy is the decline in European Union nationals choosing to study in the UK.  In December 2018, Russell Group universities observed a 3% decrease in the number of EU students enrolling on courses for the 2018/19 academic year, with the biggest drop being in post-graduate research courses.

The strongest motivator behind increasing post-study visa timescales is to encourage a post-Brexit trade deal with India.  In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Theresa May that education and mobility across borders for young Indians would help define India’s relationship with Britain.  Mr Modi made clear that the current four-month time period allowed for students to find work after graduating was unacceptable.

What will the new scheme mean for students studying in the UK?

The new policy will only apply to those who graduate after summer 2021.  Graduates will have two years to work or find work in the UK.

In the official announcement, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“The new Graduate Route will mean talented international students, whether in science and maths or technology and engineering, can study in the UK and then gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers.  It demonstrates our global outlook and will ensure that we continue to attract the best and brightest.”


Unfairness to current students

International students currently studying in the UK are concerned that the two-year scheme will not be available to them if they graduate after summer 2021.  Over 18,000 have signed a petition asking the government to extend the new rules to all current Tier 4 Visa holders.

The petition states: 

“There are thousands of international students currently studying in the UK and gaining valuable skills.

“Since the current students do not have the post-study work visa for two years and [need] sponsorship from an employer, it will be difficult for them to get a job. […] Employers would definitely think about waiting for six more months, so they can hire other students who have the two-year post-study work visa”.

Wrapping up

The move to extend leave to remain in Britain following graduation is a welcome step.  However, not extending the scheme to students already studying in the country means UK employers will be missing out on being able to recruit many exceptionally talented people.

o find out how to obtain a UK Sponsor Licence so you can employee non-EEA talent or discuss your post-graduate options if you have a Tier 4 Student Visa, please contact our office on 020 3372 5125 to make an appointment.


Please call us on 020 3372 5125 or get an online consultation

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