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UK government relaxes student visa rules

Calls have been made to relax student visa rules to help make the UK more friendly for international students. Source: Shutterstock

International students who wish to remain in the UK post-graduation to find employment will now have more time to do so.

A white paper titled The UK’s future skills-based immigration system, published by the UK government, said students who have completed their bachelor’s and master’s studies can enjoy a six-month post-study leave.

This will give them “more time to find permanent skilled work and to work temporarily during that period,” said the report.

Students who have completed their PhD will have one year.

This move follows the recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in a report on the impacts of international students in the UK, released in September.

Its recommendations relate to the rules that apply to international students, particularly in respect of how long they can remain in the UK after completing their studies.

Previously, non-EU graduates hoping to work in the UK had only four months to find a job. They would have to find an employer willing to sponsor them to switch from a Tier 4 visa (general student visa) to a Tier 2 visa (general work visa).

The paper noted that: “We will also allow for students studying at bachelor’s level or above to be able to apply to switch into the skilled workers route up to three months before the end of their course in the UK, and from outside of the UK for two years after their graduation.

“We do not propose to lower standards in the study route, which is working well after the reforms which stopped the unacceptably high levels of immigration abuse encountered a decade ago by non-genuine students.

“Individuals must demonstrate that they are a genuine student, meet English language and maintenance requirements and have a proven academic track record,” it said.

Speaking to The PIE News, Universities UK International director Vivienne Stern said: “Allowing graduates to stay on for longer to find work in the UK sends the message that international students are welcome here, and we value the skills they bring.

“Universities will continue to campaign for a new, two-year, post-study work visa and we are encouraged to see that the government is willing to make change in this area.”

Meanwhile, Russell Group Head of Policy Jessica Cole said lengthening the period after international students have completed their courses “would help the UK keep up with our international competitors, such as Canada and Australia”.

Research by UCL’s Centre for Global Higher Education says since 2012, there has been little growth in the number of international students entering the UK.

“Recent data show that the gap between the UK and other countries is shrinking and the UK may soon fall to third place,” said the report, adding that Australia is already overtaking the UK as the second biggest destination for overseas students.

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