international visas
Image: Vasily Koloda / Unsplash

UK government revives two-year work visas for international graduates

The UK government has announced that two-year post-study work visas for international graduates from higher education will be revived after its abolishment in 2012, in order to “build on government action to help recruit and retain the best and brightest global talent”.

The plans were unveiled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The statement online read: “The new immigration route…will mean international graduates in any subject, including STEM, will be able to stay in the UK for two years to find work.

“Students will need to have successfully completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider which has a proven track record in upholding immigration checks and other rules on studying in the UK.”

The Department for Education (DfE) added that the initiative also “includes students who start courses in 2020-21 at undergraduate level or above”.

It will “open up opportunities for future breakthroughs in science, technology and research and other world-leading work that international talent brings to the UK”, the statement continued.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson commented: “The important contribution international students make to our country and universities is both cultural and economic. Their presence benefits Britain, which is why we’ve increased the period of time these students can remain in the UK after their studies.

“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.”

Various organisations have since reacted to the news, which Universities UK (UUK)’s Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis described as “very positive”. He stated: “We strongly welcome this policy change, which will put us back where we belong as a first choice study destination.”

We must show that our global education system is protected post-Brexit and make clear that international students are not unwelcome visitors

– National Union of Students (NUS)

“Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26 billion 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.

“Not only will a wide range of employers now benefit from access to talented graduates from around the world, these students hold lifelong links with the UK with a recent study showing 77% of graduates want to retain business links with us and 88% would return for tourism.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) also welcomed the news and congratulated “student organisers who lead the #PoststudyworkvisaNOW” campaign, including former International Students’ Officers Mostafa Rajaai and Yinbo Yu.

An NUS spokesperson said: “International students are an essential part of the student community. They form important parts of our student communities and we will continue to campaign for a UK that welcomes international students whilst acknowledging their contributions to the economy.

“NUS will continue to lobby the government to improve conditions for international students and create a fairer and more equal immigration system, which will protect them from the privatisation of visa services, NHS surcharges and rising hate crime in the UK.

“We must show that our global education system is protected post-Brexit and make clear that international students are not unwelcome visitors.”

We’ve been standing still and therefore falling behind our fast-growing competitors, such as Australia, in recent years because the offer to international students has been so uncompetitive

– Nick Hillman

Dr Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said the reintroduction was “long overdue” and that the union as well as others have been lobbying for it “for years”.

“Scrapping these visas in 2012 did untold damage to our international reputation and potentially deterred students from coming to study and work in the UK,” she stated.

“The government must ensure that the UK remains an attractive place for people from across the globe to study and work, especially given the continuing uncertainty around Brexit.”

Nick Hillman, who directs the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think-tank, commented: “All the evidence, including our own, has long suggested we need a better regime for international students past and present.

“We’ve been standing still and therefore falling behind our fast-growing competitors, such as Australia, in recent years because the offer to international students has been so uncompetitive.”

“It has taken a decade to recalibrate our approach towards international students – much longer than we expected – but, by the sound of things, the day when we can move forward has finally arrived,” he stated, adding that it is “likely to have the biggest impact on the number of students coming from the Indian subcontinent”.

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