UK home secretary Sajid Javid has set out his stall in the race to Downing Street with a pledge to reverse Theresa May’s stringent visa norms that restricted overseas students from countries like India from staying on to work for a few years at the end of their university degree.
Javid, who is among ten other contenders to succeed May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister after she formally resigned on Friday, has stated that he believes it makes no sense for overseas students to not be able to work after they complete their course at a UK university.
“It makes no sense to send some of the brightest and most enterprising people in the world straight home after their time here,” Javid said in a column for The Financial Times on Friday.
At an event organised by think tank British Future in London on Thursday, the minister had stressed on a similar commitment to encourage international students to both study in the UK and stay on and work after they graduate.
“I want to see more international students come to our country. If they’re coming here to study at our great universities, and if they want to work afterwards, we should make it easier for them to stay and work. We need a more positive attitude to this and I think the country would welcome it,” Javid said.
The minister’s intervention was welcomed by former universities minister Jo Johnson, who had tabled an amendment to the government’s Immigration Bill back in April, calling for a two-year post-study work visa option for international students.
“Home secretary accepts my new clause in the Immigration Bill lifting post study restrictions on foreign students! Real win for UK soft power,” Johnson said in a Twitter statement.
“The new clause means students at recognised universities will have an automatic right to stay on to work for two years on their Tier 4 student visa and, in addition, will no longer be counted towards any hard UK-wide net migration cap on numbers,” said Jo Johnson, the brother of prime ministerial front-runner Boris Johnson who had resigned from the Theresa May Cabinet last year in protest over her Brexit policy.
While his amendment makes a specific reference to students from the European Economic Area (EEA), experts believe any change to the visa policy would have to cover all overseas students as part of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy ending freedom of movement for EU nationals.
“Although the Immigration Bill itself only addresses the end of free movement with the EU, and so only applies to EU citizens, the UK government has made it very clear that any new immigration system should apply across all nationalities,” said Vivienne Stern, director, Universities UK International (UUKi), the representative body which has been lobbying for an improved student visa offering.
“By default, then, any change to post-study work visas proposed in the bill should apply to all international students, including those from India,” she said
“The UK ranks first for international student satisfaction overall, compared to other major study destinations, but having a more attractive post-study work offer will open the UK up to even more international students. We know that students from India particularly value being able to gain work experience in the UK,” she added.
A two-year post-study work visa offer ended during May’s term as home secretary in 2012, widely seen as responsible for a major drop in student numbers from countries like India.
The withdrawal of the PSW [post-study work] visa was attributed with a decline in international student recruitment in the UK from key markets, notably India. Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, the number of higher education students from India more than halved, noted a report by the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students last year.
Under a new International Education Strategy launched by the UK government earlier this year, set to be rolled out in the coming years as Britain exits the EU, the UK Home Office had announced plans to offer undergraduate and Masters’ students the chance to stay in the UK to look for work for six months after graduating.
Javid’s latest statements on the issue, as part of his bid to set himself apart from other Tory leadership candidates and to distance himself from May’s more rigid stance on such visas, has renewed hope that a comprehensive post-study offer may be in the works for overseas students in the UK.