The government is set to announce plans to increase the length of time international graduate students can remain in the UK to work.
The British Government is to return to a pre-2012 policy regarding foreign graduate work visas, which Theresa May called ‘too generous’. The Government is set to announce plans to ensure international students will be offered a two-year work visa upon graduation from a British university.
At present, under immigration policies implemented by Theresa May, graduates with bachelors or master's degrees are allowed to look for work for only four months in the UK. The return to the pre-2012 policy will take effect for those graduating in the summer of 2021 onwards and could increase international graduates' chances of finding long-term employment.
Students currently enrolled, however, will miss out on this extended visa. Over 20,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to extend the new visa rules to those international students currently studying in the UK.
With the aim of recruiting talented graduates in disciplines including maths, engineering and technology, the new policy would have no cap on numbers and would also allow graduates to apply for jobs regardless of their skills or the subject they studied at university.
The Home Office's latest immigration white paper proposed extending the four-month limit by just an extra two months. For doctorates, the proposal recommended limiting the work period for doctorates to a year. The decision to extend the permitted work period for international graduates to two years goes beyond this recommendation.
As home secretary in 2012, Theresa May described the two-year post-study work visa as 'too generous'. A 2016 EU directive required countries have a minimum post-study period of nine months for graduates seeking jobs. However, the UK, Ireland and Denmark did not participate in the directive.
Following the 2012 decrease in the length of the post-study work visa, international student enrolment numbers dropped significantly in the UK.
However, after the United States, the UK remains the second most popular destination for international students, with international students making up 36% of master’s students and 43% of doctoral students at UK universities in 2016, according to the OECD International Migration database.
As part of the new policy, the government aims to grow the number of international students studying in the UK (not including those from within the EU) from 460,000 to 600,000 over the next ten years. Jo Johnson, former universities minister before resigning from his brothers cabinet in September, tabled a motion in April to extend graduate work visas.
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said the cultural and economic contribution international students make to the UK 'benefits Britain'.
““Our universities thrive on being open global institutions. Introducing the graduate route ensures our prestigious higher education sector will continue to attract the best talent from around the world to global Britain,” Williamson said.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel added: “The new Graduate Route will mean talented international students, whether in science and maths or technology and engineering, can study in the UK and then gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers.”
Chancellor Sajid Javid tweeted that the move was "about time", adding that the government "should have reversed this silly policy years ago".