International students can now stay in the UK for two more years after completing their studies to give them the opportunity of starting a career in the UK. Secretary Andrea Leadsom reverses a decision made in 2012 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May that forced overseas students to leave four months after finishing a degree.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the change would see students “unlock their potential” and begin careers in the UK.
The change will apply to international students working in the UK with the condition that they must be studying at an institution with a track record in upholding immigration checks.
Under the proposals, there is no restriction on the kinds of jobs students would have to seek and no cap on numbers.
“If one needed evidence of a new approach to immigration within government, today’s announcement allowing all foreign students to stay for two years after graduation is just that,” the BBC’s home editor Mark Easton said.
“Where Theresa May introduced what she called a hostile environment around migration rules, with an ambition to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, Boris Johnson has promised to scrap that target and encourage the brightest and best to come and live and work in global Britain.”
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, welcomed the decision, saying it would benefit the UK economy and reinstate the UK as a “first choice study destination”.
“Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26bn 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.
But Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said the decision was an “unwise” step that would “likely lead to foreign graduates staying on to stack shelves”.
“Our universities are attracting a record number of overseas students so there is no need to devalue a study visa by turning it into a backdoor route for working here,” he added.
Shreya Swamy, from India, says the proposal is “a great step forward” but it is “a sad day” for her as it has come too late to help students already in the UK. Shreya had just finished her Master’s Degree in the University for the Creative Arts in Kent and Surrey and says she has “struggled so much” with the current rule giving her up to four months to look for work.
Jobs for international graduates “are close to nil”, she says, blaming their lack of experience.
“I have been through hell and back trying to figure out my career plan these past few months because it seems practically impossible to have one in the UK,” she says.
“I feel really helpless, and almost regret coming here to study because I’m going to end up going back home with a very expensive piece of paper.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Labour has always said graduates should be able to work here after their studies.
“It enables them to contribute to our economy, our universities and to research and helps us to attract the brightest and best from around the world.
“It is a great pity that ministers have previously supported measures that did the opposite.”