During his leadership campaign, the Home Secretary called for the reintroduction of the two-year post-study work route for foreign graduates in any kind of employment.
It is already the case that are no limits on the number of international students who can remain in the UK if they move into skilled roles. However, the fact that only 5,100 took advantage of this uncapped route in 2017 should cause the higher education lobby to question whether the true demand is as great as they assert.
The Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) noted in evidence to Parliament in October 2018 that immigration into lower-skilled work (which would likely increase under such a route) makes the UK a ‘slightly lower-wage and lower productivity economy’.
In any case the Higher Education sector should base their appeal on the quality of their education, not on the availability or otherwise of low skilled post study work.
The remaining question is how long students should have to find skilled and relevant work after their studies here.
In its Immigration White Paper, the government proposed extending the current four month period during which international students can find work after the end of their course to six months for master’s / bachelor’s students who are enrolled at institutions with degree awarding powers (see paragraph 35 of the White Paper.
It is therefore amazing that, in an article for the Financial Times in early June 2019, the Home Secretary called for the previous route, which was scrapped in 2012, to be re-opened. Earlier this year the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), London Economics and Kaplan International also made a similar demand.
The suggestion by Mr Javid that the current system of four to six months of post-study work is deterring international students from coming here is absurd. In the year ending March 2019, the number of sponsored study visa applications for the higher education (university) sector was the highest level on record. Last year also saw the largest number of study visa grants to Indian students since 2011. Meanwhile, the number of study visas issued to Chinese nationals hit more than 100,000 (a 13% rise in a single year).
The fact is that, if they meet the criteria, international students already have ample opportunities to move into skilled work following their studies.
It is ridiculous for the Home Secretary, of all people, to suggest otherwise.
The attached note deals with some of the main HEPI arguments.
Response to HEPI
The case put forward by HEPI, London Economics and Kaplan International for reintroducing the post-study work visa is not convincing for the following reasons:
- Demand for courses among overseas students should not be based upon the work rights that can be obtained through study but on the quality of the education offered (as noted by the Migration Advisory Committee when they rejected calls for reinstating the post-study work visa in late 2018).
- The UK has spent the past decade tackling abuse of the student visa system (with much success). This progress could be undermined by the re-opening of defunct routes that were closed for good reason. It is not interests of the UK for study to be seen as a backdoor for economic immigration.
- The previous post-study work visa was closed following analysis by the UK Border Agency which found that the largest share of students on the post-study work route whose occupation could be identified (29%) were working in unskilled jobs. The suggestion that the largest share of those taking advantage of such a reintroduced post-study route would represent an economic benefit to the UK does not stand up to scrutiny.
- The HEPI research focuses on the aggregate post-graduation tax revenues associated with international students in the 2016/17 cohort but the headline figure of £3.173 billion is a gross figure and does not appear to take into account the various costs, such as working age benefits for those on lower pay, nor the cost of externalities such as extra congestion on roads, housing and transport and pressure on public services.
- Similarly the research estimates the cost of restricting post-study work rights for non-EU students since 2012, yet does not specify whether this takes into account potential savings on in-work benefits and externalities.
- There are already ample post-study arrangements in place for international students, including the right for an unlimited number to move into skilled jobs provided by they earn just under £21,000 per year. Tier 4 to Tier 2 switchers are now able to apply after they have sat their last exam, as opposed to after they have passed their course. Via the Tier 4 pilot scheme, Master’s students can stay in the UK for slightly longer after finishing their studies. Yet despite ample opportunity, the uncapped route to move into skilled work is only used by around 5,000 international students each year.
- Contrary to claims by HEPI, there is no ‘hostile environment’ in the UK for international students, as the latest student visa statistics make clear. In the year ending March 2019, there were 243,937 Sponsored study (Tier 4) visas granted (including dependants), 20,363 more than the previous year, and the highest level since 2011.
- Opening a new post-study route would likely increase immigration levels at a time when only a small minority of the public – 8% want this to happen. In contrast, 73% support the government’s target of reducing net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ (from the current 283,000 per year) – Channel 4 News Deltapoll.
- It has been suggested that the UK is falling behind its global competitors when it comes to international students (despite the fact that the UK’s share of the higher education market grew by 3.9% between 2011 and 2016). However, the comparison with Australia and Canada is not appropriate. The population density in those countries is two to three people per square kilometer, compared with over 410 people per square kilometer in England (which is the destination of 90% of international migrants). Indeed, the UK is already one of the most crowded countries in Europe. Nearly three-quarters of the public think Britain is already crowded and 64% say the rate of projected population growth is too fast (see YouGov poll published in July 2018). Given that immigration is the key driver of population growth, it is not at all surprising that the vast majority of the public want immigration levels to be cut substantially.