Work visas for international graduates to be extended

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The government has announced that international students will be able to stay in the UK two years after graduating to find a job, overturning former prime minster Theresa May's restrictive policies

The rule change ends one of May’s most controversial immigration policies from her time as home secretary, which forced overseas students to leave the UK just four months after finishing a degree at a UK university. Critics blamed her policy for deterring international students from applying to British institutions, leading to a loss of foreign talent who could contribute to the economy after being educated here.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the new immigration route for international students is part of making Britain “open to the brightest and best from across the globe”. The extension to two years goes further than the plans laid out in the Home Office’s immigration whitepaper, released in March, which proposed extending the four-month limit to six months (and to a year for those with doctorates).

The new post-study work visa will come into effect for students starting courses at undergraduate level or above in 2020, and is open to graduates in any subject and for jobs in any sector.

The government said students will need to have successfully completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider with a track record of upholding immigration checks.

There will be no cap on the numbers who can apply and those with the visa will be able to apply to switch to a skilled worker visa if they find a job that meets the relevant criteria.

In a joint statement education secretary Gavin Williamson and home secretary Priti Patel said the government intends to increase the number of international students coming to the UK by 30% by 2030.

“International students are vital for our country and provide some of the most crucial skills we need across our workforce,” they said. “They boost our economy and are a testament to our openness to talent.”

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, welcomed the move; saying it would help to attract some of the brightest global talent: “We welcome the news that the two-year post-study visa is to be reinstated. Employers operate in a global economy and it is important that our universities reflect this by attracting the best international talent," he said.

“A visa system that is competitive is a key tool in enabling our universities to compete globally. It also enhances opportunities for our home-grown talent by having more international programmes based in the UK as well as helps them to develop a global mindset through exposure to an international community on campus.

“We look forward to hearing more detail on how the system will operate and when it will come into force to minimise confusion with employers, students and universities.”

Tijen Ahmet, business immigration specialist at Shakespeare Martineau, told HR magazine that the government's decision will boost opportunities for graduates.

“Yet another instance of some of the former prime minister’s tougher immigration policies being softened. It’s a positive move that will be welcomed across the board and is a sign that at least some steps are being taken to keep the UK a competitive and attractive place to work," he said.

“Bringing back the two-year post-study visa that was scrapped by the then-home secretary in April 2012 will give graduates a much better chance at finding a long-term job after finishing studies. Securing employment can often be a long and drawn-out process and removing the pressure of having only a few months to find a post before being required to move home can only be a step forward."

While it will go some way in helping organisations to plug skill gaps, Ahmet said that businesses must continue to look into ways to make themselves more attractive to graduates: “For employers the available talent pool will become wider. An increase in the number of highly-qualified international graduates will be essential in helping to fill roles across industries and sectors, particularly when accessing EU talent is set to become even harder. However, businesses must start marketing themselves to potential graduates now if they are to avoid too much damage caused by the Brexit skills gap.”

This latest announcement comes after the prime minister revealed plans back in August to relax immigration rules for some migrant workers. Johnson pledged he will scrap the cap on Tier 1 visas for highly-skilled migrants and make the system easier for leading scientists and their families to come to the UK for work.

However, rules around immigration after Brexit remain uncertain as earlier this month the home secretary was forced to scrap plans to end freedom of movement for EU citizens at midnight on 31 October in the event of a no-deal scenario, amid warnings that it could land the government in court.

Currently EU nationals arriving in the UK before the end of next year will be able to apply to stay for three years in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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