UK immigration
"If the UK is to remain competitive on the global stage, any new system will need to open up more immigration routes for international graduates," says immigration solicitor, Anne Morris. Source: Shutterstock

UK Government moves to welcome back international students – “Come to Britain to study and stay to work,” as immigration solicitor Anne Morris explains.

Tier 4 visa holders in the UK will be allowed to stay and work for up to two years after they graduate, under a proposed change to UK immigration rules.

According to the Home Office, students in any subject enroling for the 2020/2021 academic year will be permitted to remain in the country after their studies for up to two years to work or find a job at any skill level.

To be eligible, students must have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a UK higher education institution with a credible track record in immigration.

There will be no cap on the number of post-study work visas available.

The new route will also allow graduates to ‘switch’ to the Tier 2 skilled worker visa, under which they can find a sponsor and a role that meets the requirements.

A step in the right direction

The UK had previously offered a two-year post-study work visa, but this was removed in 2012 as part of a wider government drive to restrict UK immigration.

The current rules offer Tier 4 visa holders limited options and strict eligibility criteria to remain in the UK after their studies, impacting Britain’s appeal as a global destination for higher education and making it difficult for UK employers to hire and retain graduate talent.

The UK’s tough stance on student migration is said to have cost its economy £8 billion since 2012, with countries such as Canada having capitalised on the opportunity to make clear gains in attracting international students.

Earlier this year, the Government had announced plans to allow international graduates to stay in the UK for up to six months post-graduation and up to one year for doctoral candidates. While welcomed by UK universities and employers alike, there was criticism that these periods were not adequate for graduates to transition from education into suitable work.

Reinstating the two-year route is being seen as an important step in sending the right message to international students by opening the UK job market up to graduates.

With a two-year stay, graduates can benefit from much-needed time to consider their options and find the right opportunities to launch their early career in the country where they completed their studies.

Employers are also expected to move quickly to adjust their entry-level recruitment and graduate programmes to take full advantage of the new rule.

Appealing to international students will become critical to safeguarding the future of UK education, as universities and employers brace for the impact of the end of EU freedom of movement, and the inevitable effects of reduced EU student applications and access to EU workers respectively.

UK immigration

UK universities must safeguard education and brace for the impact of Brexit. Source: Shutterstock

Current UK immigration options

While the new route will be implemented in time for the next academic year, current Tier 4 students must look at their options under the existing rules either to extend their permission to stay in the UK or to leave the country before their visa expires. Options could include:

Sponsored employment: The Tier 2 (General) visa is available if sponsored by a UK employer for certain types of skilled work. Tier 2 leave can be for up to a maximum of 6 years and can lead to UK settlement.

Starting a business: In July this year, the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa was closed to new applicants, and was replaced by the new Start Up route. The Start Up programme allows both graduates and non-graduates to establish their first UK enterprise, on the basis of a viable business idea and supporting business plan.

Exceptional talent: The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa is available for applicants bringing high-level, technical knowledge. It remains popular in the tech sector, but also applies to other fields such as architecture.

Youth mobility: The Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa is for nationals aged 18-30 from certain countries such as Australia, Japan and Hong Kong.

Investment: If the investment threshold is met, the Tier 1 investor visa offers the flexibility to study and work in the UK, and can lead to settlement.

Family-based applications: A number of options are available based on family life and a qualifying relationship with either a British citizen, or a person with settled status in the UK.

More changes ahead

UK immigration as a whole is undergoing widespread reform. An entirely new system is expected to be in place by January 2021, which the Government says will be focused on skills over nationality.

If the UK is to remain competitive on the global stage, any new system will need to open up more immigration routes for international graduates, to welcome and support them in staying in the UK.

Anne Morris is an immigration solicitor and Managing Director at UK immigration law firm DavidsonMorris.

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