Boris Johnson’s new government has announced the return of post-study work visas in the UK, seven years after they were abolished by Theresa May as home secretary.
The new “graduate route” will allow eligible students to work, or look for work, at any skill level, for a period of two years after completing their courses. There will be no cap on the number of students who can apply for the new route.
The Department for Education said: “The new immigration route will be available to international students who have successfully completed a course in any subject at undergraduate level or higher at a higher education provider with a track record of compliance, and have Tier 4 [student visa] leave at the point the route is introduced. This includes students who start courses in 2020-21 at undergraduate level or above.” The DfE was not able to offer any further clarity about the timing of the new route’s introduction.
The abolition of two-year post-study work visas in 2012 was seen by universities as a deterrent to international students, given that rival nations such as the US, Canada and Australia maintained such visas, and as a particular factor in the dramatic fall in the number of Indian students coming to the UK.
While universities are deeply worried by the Boris Johnson government’s willingness to contemplate a no-deal Brexit, they will welcome the visa announcement as a welcome change of tone after Ms May’s era of restrictions on student visas as prime minister and home secretary.
Those on the route will be able to switch onto the skilled work route if they find a job that meets the skill requirement, the DfE said.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said that the move would allow international students “to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK”.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said: “It is a testament to our world-leading universities that so many students from abroad want to study here. The important contribution international students make to our country and universities is both cultural and economic. Their presence benefits Britain, which is why we’ve increased the period of time these students can remain in the UK after their studies.”
Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK chief executive, described the announcement as “very positive”.
“Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26 billion in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students,” he said.
“The introduction of a two-year post-study work visa is something Universities UK has long campaigned for and we strongly welcome this policy change, which will put us back where we belong as a first-choice study destination.”