International students will be allowed to work for six months in the UK after graduating under new plans laid out in the government’s White Paper on immigration.
Under proposals for a new single post-Brexit “skill-based immigration system” published on 19 December, all international students will be offered six months’ post-study leave to work following the completion of an undergraduate or masters’ degree at a UK university or institution with degree-awarding powers.
Those who have a PhD will be given a year-long post-study visa.
The move follows a pilot of six-month post-study work visas for graduates of master’s courses at 27 universities.
However, the duration of the post-study work visa is likely to disappoint universities. In September, Universities UK called for the return of the two-year post-study work visa that was scrapped in 2012, observing that the US and Canada offer graduates the chance to stay and work for up to three years.
Students from the European Union would be required to apply for the new visa if they wanted to stay in the UK after graduating, following the end of free movement when Brexit is completed.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said that his organisation would be “seeking changes to these proposals” during the consultation period.
“Unless we allow all graduates to stay and work for two years the UK will continue to lag behind our global competitors in our offer to international students,” he said.
“Under these proposals EU students will also now require a study visa, placing an additional burden on students and universities.”
Mr Jarvis also drew attention to the proposed new Tier 2 system. The Home Office is launching a consultation on a £30,000 minimum salary that would be required for skilled migrants seeking a five-year visa, which may limit universities’ ability to recruit early career researchers and technicians from overseas, who are often paid below this threshold.
However, the cap on Tier 2 visas is set to be abolished.
Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said that half of research technicians currently able to come to the UK under free movement rules would not meet the £30,000 salary threshold.
“There are many skilled people whose salaries fall below the proposed threshold of £30,000 in scientific roles, such as technician experts in universities and manufacturing, health and care workers,” Dr Main said.
Jessica Cole, head of policy at the Russell Group, said that while the new six-month post-study work visa was a “step in the right direction”, it “remains to be seen, however, if these proposals will enable the UK to continue competing for top European talent, particularly when freedom of movement will remain in place on the Continent”.
“We hope the costs faced by incoming migrants, such as the recently doubled health surcharge, will not be off-putting,” Ms Cole added.
However, she added that research universities remained “seriously concerned that overall the government’s proposals will place an unrealistic and unsustainable burden on sponsors, including businesses, universities, the NHS, schools and charities”.
“At the moment, EU migrants do not require a UK sponsor, whereas those coming from other parts of the world do. Under today’s plans the UK will move to a system where every single migrant entering as a student or under the skilled route, from any country, will need to be sponsored, adding to the already excessive cost and red tape faced by these organisations.”