International graduates will be able to stay in the UK for two years to find work under a new immigration route that reverses the “hostile environment” that Theresa May introduced as home secretary in 2012.
The government hopes that extending the work visa will help UK employers recruit and retain the best global talent; particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, where non-UK students make up half of all full-time post-graduate positions.
In order to qualify for the right to stay in the UK for two years, students will need to have completed a degree in any subject from a UK university or higher education provider that conducts robust immigration checks. Currently, international graduates are only able to remain in the UK for four months.
Home secretary Priti Patel said: “The new Graduate Route will mean talented international students, whether in science and maths or technology and engineering, can study in the UK and then gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers.
“It demonstrates our global outlook and will ensure that we continue to attract the best and brightest.”
The two-year post-study work visa was announced alongside the launch of the “world’s largest” genetic research project, which aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a range of serious and life-threatening illnesses including cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis and dementia.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “Breakthroughs of this kind wouldn’t be possible without being open to the brightest and the best from across the globe to study and work in the UK.”
The visa extension will help plug skills shortages if a no-deal Brexit were to go ahead, suggested CV-Library founder and CEO Lee Biggins.
“It’s promising to see our prime minister encouraging a more ‘global Britain’ and it’s a much-needed boost that this country needs amid this Brexit chaos.
“Overseas students bring a plethora of knowledge and talent to the UK, not to mention much-needed funding for universities,” he said.
Mike Spicer, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the visa will allow UK organisations to benefit from the skilled labour that UK universities work hard to train.
He said: “At a time of critical labour shortages, it’s right that the UK’s immigration system reflects economic reality and removes undue barriers to accessing skills. International students are crucial to the success of UK universities and the business communities in which they operate, and local companies will benefit from the opportunity to harness and develop their talent.”
It will also enhance opportunities for UK-based students and graduates, said the Institute of Student Employers’ chief executive Stephen Isherwood, by allowing them to “develop a global mindset” through exposure to an international community.
“Employers operate in a global economy and it is important that our universities reflect this by attracting the best international talent,” he added.
The campaign group Migration Watch described the move as “retrograde”.