In the years 2017 – 2018 the number of international students studying here in the UK was 458,490 and the UK is at present the second most popular study destination worldwide. A report completed for the Government by the Migration Advisory Committee in September last year however, indicated that the UK runs the risk of being overtaken for second spot by Southern Hemisphere rival Australia.
With course costs for international students being significantly higher than those for ‘home’ students educational institutions from all over the UK benefit from the revenue that international students bring.
The UK as a whole benefits from an estimated £26 billion in economic contributions. There is also a great deal of potential for these graduates to remain in the UK and put their skills to use when entering the workforce.
It is not always plain sailing post-graduation however, as uncertainty with regards to residency is often a major concern for international students. The Government’s current policy is that students are afforded just four months following completion of their studies to look for and find work. Should the right opportunity not present itself within this time limit, the student would be required to leave the UK. There are concerns that this uncertainty would dissuade some of the world’s brightest from choosing UK as a place to study and start their career.
In an attempt to combat this uncertainty and perhaps to secure that all important second spot in the international study destination rankings, the Government has announced proposals to significantly extend the post-study time limit for finding employment.
Under the proposals, International students will now be allowed to stay in the UK for two years post-graduation to find a job (unfortunately those already who have already commenced their studies will not benefit from the changes). The two year post-study Visa Route, dubbed the ‘Graduate’ route, would replace the previous 4 month time limit and the Government hopes that this will provide international students with more support to work, or look for work in a position of their choice. In doing so the Government hopes to recruit and retain ‘the best and brightest global talent’.
There will be checks and balances in place – for example qualifying students must be studying with an institution that has a track record in upholding immigration checks. There would not however be a cap on numbers or any type of restriction on the kinds of jobs that students would have to seek. Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK has warned that this may lead to a devaluation of the Student Visa as it is turned into a ‘backdoor route for working within the UK’. He has heralded the proposal as a ‘retrograde step’ stating the implementation will likely lead to ‘graduates staying on to stack shelves’.
Boris Johnson has described the move as way to allow international students to ‘unlock their potential’ and forge careers here in the UK (…and attracting more students from further afield may be a useful way to plug the potential gap in EU students as a result of the on-going Brexit uncertainty).
There has also been widespread concern and criticism that the changes will not be brought in soon enough to cover those international students who have already commenced their studies – for which the current 4 month deadline will still apply.
For the most part though, the u-turn on the previous four month policy has been welcomed as an opportunity to attract the world’s brightest and best – providing students with the best chance to remain within the UK to continue to contribute to our economy and society as a whole.