A pilot programme which eases student visa rules for postgraduates is being extended to an additional 23 universities.
The scheme, which streamlines the immigration process associated with master’s courses and allows graduates to remain in the UK for six months after the end of their course in search of work, attracted criticism when it was launched in July 2016 because it involved just four highly selective institutions in the south of England: the universities of Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, plus Imperial College London.
Now, the government has confirmed plans to roll out the pilot to more providers, including universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Fifteen of the 23 new participants are members of the Russell Group of large, research-intensive institutions, but the list also includes institutions such as the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the University of Reading.
The Home Office said that the universities were selected because their visa refusal rates were “consistently the lowest in their area or region”.
The announcement will be seen as further evidence of a shift towards a fresh approach on the international student issue being led by Amber Rudd, the home secretary.
Brandon Lewis, the immigration minister, said that the expansion of the pilot was “part of our ongoing activity to ensure that our world-leading institutions remain highly competitive”.
“The UK continues to be the second most popular destination for international students and the number coming to study at our universities has increased by 24 per cent since 2010,” he said. “This is a clear indication that genuine students are welcome and there is no limit on the number who can come to study in the UK.”
Universities taking part in the pilot are given responsibility for eligibility checks, meaning that students can submit fewer documents than required in the current process alongside their visa applications.
Tim Bradshaw, the chief executive of the Russell Group, said that the extension of the pilot was “good news”.
“This will help attract students to study here and enable the UK to benefit from talented international graduates,” he said. “We hope to see this scheme rolled out more widely as soon as possible to those universities that can demonstrate high levels of compliance with the visa regulations.”
The full list of universities being added to the student visa pilot scheme is: University of Bristol; Cardiff University; Durham University; University of East Anglia; University of Edinburgh; University of Essex; University of Exeter; University of Glasgow; Goldsmiths, University of London; Harper Adams University; University of Leicester; University of Liverpool; University of Manchester; Newcastle University; University of Nottingham; Queen's University Belfast; University of Reading; Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London; University of Sheffield; University of Southampton; University of Wales Trinity Saint David (Swansea campus); University of Warwick; and the University of York.