THE British government on Wednesday unveiled plans to enable foreign students to work in the UK for two years after graduation, in a decision taken by the Boris Johnson-led administration to “attract and retain the brightest and best talent”. The rule will apply to students studying at the undergraduate level or above from 2020 onwards.

The decision has largely been welcomed by currently enrolled international students, who breathed a sigh of relief as the development abolishes a scheme introduced in 2012 by then-home secretary Theresa May that forced overseas students to leave the country just four months after finishing a degree.

A statement posted by the Department of Education said the new immigration route would mean international graduates in any subject would be able to stay in the UK for two years to find work. Students would need to have successfully completed a degree 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 country.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson commented on the development in a statement that said: “It is a testament to our world-leading universities that so many students from abroad want to study here. The important contribution international students make to our country and universities is both cultural and economic.

Students will be allowed to stay in Britain for two years after graduation

“Their presence benefits Britain, which is why we’ve increased the period of time these students can remain in the UK after their studies.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javed tweeted to welcome the move. “About time. Should have reversed this silly policy years ago. Britain should always be open to the best talent from across the world,” he said.

While most individuals and groups welcomed the development, the Migration Watch group criticised the move. “Surely instead of encouraging overseas students to take on jobs at all skill levels (as this move would), employers should be attracting domestic recruits w/ better pay & terms,” the group posted on Twitter.

In an email to Dawn, a University of Warwick student recruitment coordinator said the university is “delighted” by the news and that it looks forward to receiving further details regarding the plan.

According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs, the total number of foreign students studying in the UK in 2017-18 was 458,490, with Pakistani students numbering 40,210.

Since Theresa May curbed the time limit in 2012 for international students graduating from UK universities to four months, Pakistani students have expressed anger and frustration at the difficulty in finding employment in British firms. Ms May had closed the ‘post study work route’, which allowed students two years to seek employment after their course ended.

After learning of the development, Pakistani student Aimen Mobin, who graduated from the University of East Anglia after completing a BSc in Business Management last year, said: “I wish this had happened during my time. But I’m really glad international students in the coming year or so will be given a more practical timeframe to find a suitable job.

“The four-month time period during my time wasn’t generous at all. A lot of my university friends who were international students had to leave the UK because they simply could not secure a job due to the restricted options and limited timeframe.”

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK, Nafees Zakaria, also welcomed the British government’s decision.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2019