Good news for international students
On 11 September 2019, the Home Office announced a new graduate immigration route for international students to remain in the UK for two years after they complete their studies. Not only is this a welcome change for overseas students but it is good news for the UK education sector and potentially for employers planning for potential skills shortages post-Brexit.
The new route will be launched in the summer of 2021. International students who graduate in the summer of 2021 will be eligible to apply and those entering the UK thereafter. Students who graduate or those whose Tier 4 visas expire before the route is introduced will not be eligible.
The visa will enable international graduates to work or look for work, in any sector and at any level. Students will need to hold a Tier 4 student visa and have successfully completed a degree at undergraduate level or higher from a trusted UK university or higher education provider with a proven track record in upholding immigration checks and other rules on studying in the UK.
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What does this mean for Further and Higher Education?
1. Further and Higher Education institutions who have a Tier 4 Sponsorship Licence should be pro-active and diligent at all times as one of the reciprocal criteria set by the Home Office. The new graduate immigration route will push them further to focus on effective management and monitoring of their practices to remain compliant at all times. Failure to do so could lead to revocation of their Tier 4 Sponsorship licence and in turn prohibit the student from applying for the graduate visa route.
2. If the student makes a successful application granting them the graduate immigration visa, the Education provider will be released from the responsibility of monitoring the student and will not be responsible for the student’s immigration status thereafter.
3. There are no sponsorship requirements under the graduate immigration visa route. The flexibility and time it affords to students is another unique selling point the Home Office has added for students. It is an attractive offer for students to consider when choosing to study in the UK as it will substantially increase their chances of finding long-term employment after studying.
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The current visa system
Under the current system, a Tier 4 student visa is issued only for a particular course and is valid for the duration of the course. Upon completion of the student’s course – graduates with bachelors or master’s degrees are allowed to look for work for only four months and would be expected to be able to switch into a work category such as a Tier 2 (General) visa thereafter in order to stay in the UK.
Reason for change
The reason the government decided to introduce the change is based on the fact that there has been a push from the business and education sectors to ease the rules for international students. This was then supported by cabinet ministers, including the Home Secretary. Some students have innovative ideas for business and with the introduction of start-up visas, this could be a way for them to utilise their time whilst in the UK to make the necessary inroads to work on a business plan or set up a business. They could also start working for a Tier 2 sponsor and as a result switch into the Tier 2 (General) visa category.
Will time spent in the UK count towards applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain?
The Tier 4 Student visa does not allow the holder to obtain indefinite leave to remain on its own. The new graduate immigration route will be valid for two years only and students will not be able to extend the visa nor will it lead to indefinite leave to remain on its own. Students may, however, be able to use the time they have spent as a Tier 4 Student and under the new graduate visa category to demonstrate lawful residence of 10 years to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.