Extend visitor visas or risk ‘undermining’ Turing scheme, UK told

UK’s post-Brexit global exchange scheme could be boosted by extending student visitor visas from six months to one year, says UUK report

December 15, 2021

The UK’s current visa system is putting off short-term exchange students who want to come and study in the UK for between six months and a year, potentially “undermining” the post-Brexit Turing scheme, according to Universities UK.

A UUK report calls on the UK government to extend the length of the visitor visa for students from six months to one academic year. This, it argues, would increase the benefits that exchange students bring to the UK economy – already valued at an estimated £470 million a year – and “set the UK up for success in the Turing scheme”, the UK’s attempt to replace the European Union’s Erasmus+ exchange scheme, by “positioning us as an attractive partner destination”.

Since the introduction of the points-based immigration system on 1 January 2021, “all students coming to the UK from overseas require a visa (although EU nationals may be exempt for shorter trips)”, the report points out.

That means “on average, 12,900 EU students would now need a student visa to come on exchange to the UK each year,” it adds. “This group – a third of all exchange students coming to the UK each year – are now at risk of reducing the length of their exchange, or not coming at all.”

Meanwhile the number of exchange students “coming from top markets in Asia grew significantly”, by 22 per cent between 2015 and 2020, in five years – but could grow further, the report suggests.

It continues: “Our evidence suggests that fewer immigration requirements are associated with exchange students staying longer in the UK. Over the past five years, almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of EU exchange students (at that time, not subject to immigration requirements) came to the UK for between 24 weeks and a year, compared to 55 per cent of non-EU nationals.

“This suggests that current immigration arrangements may be acting as a barrier to growing exchanges from global partners, especially those outside the EU – who represented 53 per cent of exchange students between 2015-20.

“So, reducing immigration requirements for all such students will encourage them to undertake a longer placement in the UK.”

“Maintaining or increasing the numbers of students coming to the UK on exchange will be crucial to the success of the Turing scheme,” it also says.

Vivienne Stern, Universities UK International director, said: “International students who come to the UK on short-term exchanges are important to the UK for a number of reasons. Like full degree students, they add to the diversity on our campuses and contribute to our economy by spending money on goods and services while they are here, but they also create opportunities for UK students. Exchange students open up places in other universities around the world for our students to spend time studying abroad.

“Without inbound students, we risk losing opportunities for outbound visits. That’s why we want government to make sure that the visa system works for incoming exchange students. We think this is really important if we want to make the government’s newly launched Turing scheme a success.”


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