On 11 September 2019, the government announced a ‘new’ post-study work route for foreign students graduating from degree level or higher education. The move will allow students to switch into the new category live and work in the UK for up two years on completion of their studies, essentially reviving the Tier 1 Post Study Work visa which was closed by Theresa May on 6 April 2012 during her tenure as Home Secretary. This marks a further step away from previous Prime Ministers’ commitment to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’.
The government announcement states that “the new Graduate route will launch for the 2020/21 intake of students to university”, however, no specific detail has been published as to how the scheme will operate. Although the announcement implies the post-study work option will only apply to students starting degree level courses in the academic year 2020/21, it has nonetheless been widely reported that students who graduate from 2020, rather than those who begin a degree, will have access to the post-study provisions.
According to Home Secretary, Priti Patel:
“[This proposal] demonstrates our global outlook and will ensure that we continue to attract the best and brightest.”
This significant change in policy direction should be welcomed, however it is notable, that the timing coincides with Brexit and the end of free movement of workers from the EU. It is perhaps recognition that employers from all sectors will need a pool of people to recruit from in a flexible way. Immigration having played such a central role in the Brexit referendum, this is an attempt to ensure that UK businesses continue to have access to the brightest and the best talent.
It is acknowledged that foreign students contribute significantly to the UK economy through overseas tuition fees, visa application fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge fees. It is probable that the Treasury can expect a substantial boost in revenue from a sector previously maligned by previous Home Secretaries. Judging British government websites in India and China, much is being done to make the UK more attractive to foreign students.
The proposals will provide students with the opportunity to stay longer and settle if they can find an employer willing to sponsor them (nb employers can sponsor students under the post-study work provisions which provides an exception from the resident labour market test and the flexibility to pay salaries at entry level graduate rates). Furthermore, it increases the possibility that students may be able to settle in the UK through the ten year long residence route, obtain routes to settlement on the basis of private life or pursue avenues to remain through partner type visas. All in all, alongside the wholesale revamp of UK immigration law promised for post-Brexit previously discussed here, the UK is set for a dramatic change in immigration regulation over the next decade, the patterns of migration will undoubtedly change. It is a tacit acceptance by the leading proponents of Brexit of the importance of immigration to the UK economy. A penny for your thoughts if you can recall how many proponents of Brexit made this argument during the Brexit debates?