Chancellors urge review of two-year visas as overseas graduates say three-year offer would be more attractive
International students would be more likely to consider studying in the UK if they were allowed to stay and work for three years instead of two, a survey suggests.
Foreign students have been able to stay on and work in the UK for two years after completing their course since July last year, when the government reinstated the two-year post-study work visa after years of pressure from universities.
Vivienne Stern, the director of Universities UK International, said vice-chancellors wanted the government to review whether the two-year visa forms were “a barrier to employing international graduates”, and ensure the UK had a “competitive post-study work offer”.
The change would bring the UK closer to Australia’s approach, which offers overseas graduates a post-study work visa of up to four years – depending on their course and level of study. In 2018, Australia overtook the UK as the second most popular destination for international students after the US.
A survey of 100,000 international students by the education analysts QS showed that two-thirds would be more likely to consider studying in the UK if the post-study work visa was extended.
The two-year visa was revoked by the then home secretary, Theresa May, in 2012 in an attempt to curb immigration. However, the survey suggested fewer than a fifth of the students would plan to stay beyond the three years.
Instead of reducing immigration, universities warned that removing the post-study work visa in 2012 had harmed international student recruitment. Since it was reinstated, institutions say they have been able to reach a target of recruiting 600,000 international students a year a decade early.
As well as providing an important revenue stream for UK universities, a recent survey estimated international students benefited the UK economy by £26bn every year.
The report urges the government to review policy and restrictions “to help stimulate further growth in the sector after the pandemic and position post-Brexit Britain as an equally welcoming destination for international students as its key competitors”.
An extension would be especially appealing to Indian students, with nearly three-quarters (73%) saying three years would make them a lot more likely to consider the UK. Numbers of Indian students choosing to study in the UK fell dramatically after the abolition of the two-year post-study work visa in 2012, and have quadrupled since it was reinstated.
Enabling more Indian students to study at British institutions is a priority for the Indian government, and higher education is expected to feature prominently in an upcoming UK ministerial visit to India on 6 June to discuss a trade deal.
A Home Office spokesperson said post-study work offers across countries were not “directly comparable and we think ours strikes the right balance”.
She said: “Those on the graduate route can stay in the UK and look for work at any skill level for a period of two years, or three years for those with a PhD, and switch into skilled work routes if they find a suitable job.”
This article was amended on 30 May 2022. An earlier version said the government had reinstated the two-year post-study work visa in 2019; in fact it came into effect only on 1 July 2021.