International students will be able to stay in the UK after graduating under a new two-year post-study work visa, the government has said.
The changes – which are due to come into effect for students starting courses in 2020/21 – will help those studying in Britain to start their careers in the UK, Boris Johnson said.
The visa will be available to university students studying any course – as long as they have completed it at an institution with a track record of upholding immigration checks.
Home secretary Priti Patel said the scheme – dubbed the ‘Graduate Route’ – demonstrated the UK’s “global outlook”, saying it would “ensure that we continue to attract the best and the brightest”.
“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,” she added.
The announcement came alongside the launch of the world’s largest genetics project, a £200 million whole genome sequencing project in the UK Biobank.
“Over sixty years ago, we saw the discovery of DNA in Cambridge by a team of international researchers and today we are going even further,” Johnson said.
“Now we are bringing together experts from around the globe to work in the UK on the world’s largest genetics research project, set to help us better treat life-threatening illnesses and ultimately save lives.”
Scientific breakthroughs wouldn’t be possible “without being open to the brightest and the best from across the globe to study and work in the UK”, he added.
“That’s why we’re unveiling a new route for international students to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK.”
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, welcomed the “very positive news”, saying a lack of post-study work opportunities had left the UK “at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students.”
“Not only will a wide range of employers now have access to talented graduates from around the world, these students hold lifelong links.”
International students bring £26 billion in economic contributions, Jarvis added.
But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Johnson’s other visa plans would stop the scheme from working.
“Labour has always said graduates should be able to work here after their studies because it enables them to contribute to our economy, our universities and to research, and helps us to attract the brightest and best from around the world,” the frontbencher said.
“It is a great pity that ministers have previously supported measures that did the opposite.
“But it also highlights the foolishness of government plans to place a salary limit on work visas at £30,000. Many of the graduates doing fantastic medical and other research earn less than that. Government policy will prevent us from attracting them to live and work here.”
Meanwhile Alp Mehmet – chairman of Migration Watch UK – called the Johnson’s announcement an “unwise” and “retrograde” step which would “likely lead to foreign graduates staying on to stack shelves, as happened before”.
“Our universities are attracting a record number of overseas students so there is no need to devalue a study visa by turning it into a backdoor route for working here.”