UK post-study work visa
The extension is a significant addition to the current post-study work visa system for international students. Source: Shutterstock

The biggest news for international students last week was the UK government’s announcement that it will be bringing back the two-year post-study student work visa.

Reversing Theresa May’s abolition of the visa seven years ago, the new immigration route will be open to “international students who have successfully completed a course in any subject at undergraduate level or higher at a higher education provider with a track record of compliance, and have Tier 4 [student visa] leave at the point the route is introduced”. It’s a significant extension from the current four-month limit for bachelor or master’s graduates to look for work.

Here’s what we know of the new “graduate route” so far:

1. It’s limited to certain levels of study

The announcement on September 10 by the Department of Education said the new work visa would apply to those who “start courses in 2020-21 at undergraduate level or above”.

2. It’ll likely be launched in 2021

According to The PIE News, the Home Office expects the new rule to take effect in the first half of 2021. Due to the wide-ranging immigration changes that will take place during Brexit, Home Office Head of Student Migration Policy, Paul Jeffrey said during a Universities UK conference last week that they are “not able to say categorically when this route will be introduced”.

3. It’s unclear who will be eligible

The initial announcement said the new work visa will be available to those who start courses in 2020/21 and after. This confused many students in various stages of their studies. Sanam Arora, Chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, told Times Higher Education that three groups of students are “very concerned at present”: those starting courses this month, those in the UK with valid student visas when the change is in place and students “who are currently graduating”.

The PIE News reported that Home Office Head of Student Migration Policy, Paul Jeffrey, said during the Universities UK conference last week that the government can say “with absolute certainty” that any student enrolling in 2020/21 will benefit. As for those graduating from the summer of 2021 onwards, Jeffrey said: “I think we can very very confidently say that anyone who graduates from the summer of 2021 onwards will also benefit, that includes those who are currently in the UK now starting their [undergraduate] degrees.”

However, according to a THE article published yesterday, a spokesman from the Home Office said students “graduating in the summer of 2020-21 and after will be eligible”.

4. No restrictions on the type of jobs

The new work visa will apply to any level of job in any sector, according to Jeffrey, who called the rights “unrestricted”.

In a news story published on the UK government website, the new work visa is aimed not just at retaining the “best and brightest” in the UK, but to facilitate “future breakthroughs in science, technology and research and other world-leading work that international talent brings to the UK”. This includes the £200 million genetics project, a whole genome sequencing volunteer project in the UK Biobank which launched last week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that crucial scientific breakthroughs “wouldn’t be possible without being open to the brightest and the best from across the globe to study and work in the UK.” He continued, “That’s why we’re unveiling a new route for international students to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK.”

5. No need for sponsorship

International students require their higher education provider to sponsor their study visas, but the new work visa would offer an “unsponsored route” where universities would not need to maintain responsibility for their graduates while they try to access the jobs market.

6. No cap

Like the recent removal of a cap on the number of PhD students moving on to the skilled work visa route, there will be no cap on how many students can switch to the new work visa under this graduate route. As The Guardian explained, “Under the new policy, the visas would have no cap on numbers and would allow graduates to apply for jobs regardless of their skills or the subject they studied. The government said part of the aim was to recruit talented graduates in disciplines such as maths, engineering and technology.”

7. A work period longer than two years is possible

After the two years, the Department of Education states that international students “on the [graduate] route will be able to switch on to the skilled work route if they find a job which meets the skill requirement of the route.”

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