Sector fights plan to cut UK post-study work visa ‘to six months’

Country would lose out to competitors if it rolls back two-year work eligibility, leaders warn

January 25, 2023
Source: iStock

A rumoured move to reduce post-study work visas for international students to six months would have a “significant negative” financial impact on the UK, it has been warned.

Proposals from home secretary Suella Braverman to reform the graduate visa route would also limit the overseas students allowed to bring dependants with them to those on postgraduate courses that are research-based or at least two years’ long, The Times reported.

The newspaper said that plans to cut the length of post-study work visas, which currently last two years in most cases, were being “strongly opposed” by the Department for Education. They have also been criticised by sector leaders.

Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, strongly urged the government not to “reverse course” on its successful International Education Strategy, which introduced the graduate route and has already surpassed its target of enrolling 600,000 international students annually by 2030.

“Any threat to remove or limit the graduate route would severely impact on our ability to recruit international students and, ultimately, have a significant negative impact on the UK’s economic growth,” he said.

Changing that route – which is already limited to students who have successfully completed their course of study – would curtail the UK’s recruitment, particularly compared with its rivals in the market, such as Australia, he argued.

“To restrict this offer would be hugely damaging to our competitiveness and to the reputation of the UK as an open and welcoming country,” Mr Arrowsmith said.

The divisions are the latest in a growing battle within government, with a previous policy suggested by the Home Office – which would have restricted overseas student recruitment to the UK’s “top” universities – also believed to have been strongly opposed by the DfE.

The proposal to reduce the number of additional family members entering the country comes after figures showed a tripling in visas issued to students’ dependants, with 70 per cent of all dependants coming from Nigeria and India.

Mr Arrowsmith said “blunt bans” could adversely affect the UK’s reputation, its economy, and its relationships with key partners such as India and Nigeria.

And he said a repeating pattern of “boom and bust” in international recruitment would be a “big mistake”.

However, he was supportive of the proposal to end learners’ ability to switch from a student to a work visa if they have not completed their course.

“This would close an unhelpful loophole and ensure that international students that choose the UK finish their programmes before they are able to move into full-time employment,” Mr Arrowsmith added.

UUKi would also welcome a more “nuanced” presentation of immigration statistics, which recognised that most international students are temporary migrants who complete their studies then return home.

Vivienne Stern, the chief executive of Universities UK, described the proposals as an “act of economic self-harm”, but said her organisation would support the “softer end” of them.

patrick.jack@timeshighereducation.com

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