Education Matters - How will the changes to Immigration rules affect students?


23 October 2019

With Brexit continuing to loom heavy on the horizon, the Government have been keen to announce changes to the Immigration rules which will specifically look to benefit students with the intention to retain 'the brightest and the best' graduates to remain in the UK after their studies.

A significant pillar in this is the announcement of plans for a new immigration route to enable international students to work in the UK for two years after graduation. Students who have successfully completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider in any subject will be able to stay in the UK for two years to find work. If they meet the requirements they will then be able to switch onto a skilled work visa route. Full details are yet to be released but it will be interesting to see how this new route compares to the Tier 1 Post Study Work route that was scrapped over seven years ago. The announcements claim “unlike the route which closed in 2012, this new route will also include safeguards to ensure only genuine, credible students are eligible." The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by Universities UK, which represents 130 institutions, many of whom had been concerned that the numbers of students from the EU would fall significantly in the event of Brexit. A post study work route is seen as a major attraction to International students.

It is unclear when graduates will start benefiting from the new visa. So far we only have announcements and no legislation has been passed, so it will not assist those graduating in 2019. It appears the route will form part of our new immigration system from January 2021. The Government has said students enrolling in the 2020/21 academic year will benefit. However, there is uncertainty for those who enrolled earlier but will graduate in 2021.

Until the new rules are introduced, most international students will be limited to four months after the end of their visas. However, from October 2019, Tier 4 Students studying at degree level or above will be able to switch into Tier 2 within three months of the expected end date of their course. We welcome these changes in Tier 2 which we believe will have a positive impact on employers across a variety of sectors and will allow students greater flexibility to look for work before the end of their course.

Further welcome news is that from 6 October 2019, PhD level occupations will be exempt from the annual limit on skilled workers from outside the EU. This will help speed up applications, as they will no longer need to go through the monthly Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship application process. Tier 2 migrants in PhD level occupations will also be allowed greater flexibility on absences from the UK for research that is directly related to their Tier 2 employment. This will not be counted as an absence for the purpose of an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain. The same applies to their partners and dependants who accompany them in these circumstances. This is good news for international research professionals and the institutions which can move staff as appropriate without excessive concern to the effect on the individual's long term immigration status.

Any immigration update would not be complete without mention of Brexit, so as we move towards 31st October deadline, it is worth emphasising that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, both staff and students who are EU nationals, already in the UK before Brexit day, will have until 31 December 2020 to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Further information on the EU Settlement Scheme is available online. 

This article is from the October 2019 issue of Education Matters, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at October 2019.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information, please contact Clare Hedges or Janice Leggett in our Immigration Team.