Out-Law News 2 min. read

New post-study work experience visa proposed by UK universities

A new visa allowing international students to stay in the UK and work for up to two years after graduation would benefit employers and make the UK a more attractive place to study, according to Universities UK.

The group, which represents the interests of the UK's higher education sector, has published detailed proposals for a new visa (5-page / 8.2MB PDF). Its plans differ from the old post-study work visa, abolished by the government in 2012, as it would involve higher education institutions (HEIs) directly sponsoring their graduates.

Demand for higher education places from international students has increased in countries such as Australia, Canada and the US, which all offer opportunities for students to gain work experience after graduating, according to Universities UK. The total number of enrolled international students in the UK has remained flat over the same period.

Since the post-work study visa was abolished, international graduates can only remain in the UK if they find a job within four months of completing their course with a salary of at least £20,800 at an employer with a Tier 2 sponsor licence, or if they can obtain sponsorship under the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route. PhD students are able to remain in the UK for up to 12 months following completion of their degree.

"The ability to work in a skilled job for a limited period after graduation is, for many prospective international students, an important part of the overall package when deciding where to study," said Universities UK president Professor Dame Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool.

"This improved post-study visa would put us on a par with what is offered by countries such as the US, Canada and Australia. It would send a more welcoming message to international students and signal that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world. As Brexit discussions continue, the UK needs an ambitious immigration policy that helps boost our regional and global competitiveness," she said.

The new visa, as proposed by Universities UK, would be made available to international graduates from courses which last 11 months or longer at registered Tier 4 sponsor HEIs. Graduates would have a period of two years to search for and gain work without restrictions on job level or salary, and without an employer sponsorship requirement. They would, however, be expected to switch to the Tier 2 route if they found a job where this was available, and would be required to leave the UK after two years if they were unable to do so.

Should the proposal be developed, HEIs should be able to manage their licence for the new visa system separately from their existing Tier 4 licence through a new, but linked, corporate entity, according to Universities UK. This would remove the risk of disruption if the Home Office has concerns about either licence.

Immigration law expert Euan Smith of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the proposal was an "interesting" one which "we hope the government will consider closely".

"The government needs to understand that our universities operate in a global market and need at least to be able to match the work opportunities other countries currently offer their overseas students after graduation," he said.

"The proposed direct sponsorship by the university of the overseas student during the period of work may be welcomed by the Home Office. This may, together with other measures, be a way to help ensure that the perceived weakness of the old post-study work scheme in enabling some graduates to work in low-skilled roles can be addressed," he said.

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