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The future of international students and global talent in the UK

In the past few months several things have come to light which may shape UK immigration, in this article we explore the proposed plans further.

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The future of international students and global talent in the UK

If you have been reading the news these past few months, you would be right in thinking that the UK Government has made a series of contradictory statements. On one hand we have a Home Secretary who claims there are too many ‘low-skilled migrants’ and international students in the UK and wants to reduce the leave granted on a Graduate visa. Yet on the other hand, the UK has a record number of vacancies which the Home Office plans to tackle by allowing international students to work an additional 10-hours per week.

Confused? You’re not the only one.

Here’s a lowdown on everything which has happened these past few months and what it may mean for the future of UK immigration:

Suella Braverman: We have too many low skilled workers and international students

In a media publication the UK’s Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, stated that there are too many low-skilled migrant workers and international students in Britain. Braverman went on to say that these ‘low-skilled migrants’ and international students (and their dependents) are not contributing to the growth of the economy, and for that reason, the UK needs to focus on attracting high-skilled labour.  

However, despite Braverman talking in-depth about the need to change the UK’s immigration system, she failed to acknowledge that there are currently around 1.3 million vacancies in the UK - many of which the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) would classify as being ‘low skilled’. One of the reasons for the record number of vacancies in the UK is due to the ending of free movement of workers from Europe. In an attempt to mitigate against the consequences of this, the Home Office lowered the skill level for a Skilled Worker visa – however, they kept the minimum salary requirement to £25,600 per year which in turn has created problems in industries where lower wages prevail.

Going forward the government will have to be very clear on how they define ‘low skilled’ and be clear whether certain jobs which the MAC define as ‘low skilled’ (i.e. butchers, chefs, and care workers) will continue to be recognised as a shortage occupation for the purposes of the Skilled Worker visa.


Extending the work rights of international students

Despite Braverman stating that the number of international students in the UK was ‘too high’, It has been reported that one way in which the ministers are looking to boost the UK’s economic growth is by extending the work hour limit for the student visa. It has been suggested that ministers are debating whether to increase the work hour limit to 30-hours or scrap it completely. The rationale behind this is that by allowing international students to work more hours in the UK, students will be more incentivised to work, and so, there should be fewer vacancies in the UK.

As an immigration law firm, we believe that global talent is vital for economic growth. However, we do not believe that extending the work rights of those on a student visa is necessarily the way to go. Our primary concern with this plan is that by extending work rights, international students in the UK may start to prioritise work over study or even their health and wellbeing. We already know that a few of our university clients limit the number of hours their international students can work during term time because they are concerned about students prioritising work over study. Therefore, it is unlikely that the proposed plans will be welcome news to universities across the UK.

As always, should any announcements be made in relation to this we will keep you updated.

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Proposed plans to change the Graduate visa

It has been suggested that the Home Office is looking at shortening the amount of leave granted under the Graduate visa. Under proposed plans, the Graduate visa may be changed to only allow people to stay in the UK for six months, compared to the current leave of 2 years. If this goes ahead it would reduce the attractiveness of the UK to international students and we may see prospective students go to places like Australia where international students can work for up to 4 years after their graduation. For this reason, we don’t believe that these proposed changes to the Graduate visa will be implemented and indeed the Higher Education sector have made their feelings clear to the government that this proposal will be damaging to the UK economy.

UK industry is also concerned about these proposals particularly as many businesses are relying on the Graduate visa as part of their people strategy to recruit, train and develop new talent. This is particularly so in sectors where an element of training in industry is required before the person qualifies in their job, such as opticians, pharmacists and solicitors.

We will update you should announcements be made.


Dependents of international students

As you will be aware, international students are able to bring their dependents to the UK and if a student is studying a degree level course or higher then their dependents can work in the UK full time without requiring sponsorship. Again, the Home Secretary has uttered her concerns about the number of international students bringing their dependents to the UK. Ministers are understood to be looking at ways to tighten the rules, which allow students to bring in a spouse and any dependent children, as long as they can support themselves.


Concluding remarks

Whilst we are skeptical as to whether the government will go through with their proposed plans, one thing we are sure of is the need for the government to be in agreement as to what their priorities and messages are in relation to migration. We cannot have a government which wants to encourage international students to work, yet at the same time force them to go back home after their studies. Nor can we have a government which fails to act on, and even acknowledge, the reasons for the labour shortages in Britain. That said, successive governments have always made it clear that they will always protect the resident workforce over migrants and that if economic reasons necessitate, they will always scrap policies or tighten the rules on visas that allow migrants to work in the UK.

What is clear is the positive contribution that international students make to the UK economy. According to the Higher Education Policy institute they generate an annual surplus of £26bn to the UK economy and international student tuition fees are vital to universities, possibly helping to keep many departments open. Also, at a time when the UK is embarking on signing trade deals across the world the Government should not ignore the soft power of British university education and the connections this brings for the country.

As always, we will keep you updated on these proposed plans.


How can Paragon Law help?

If you require assistance with any of the issues raised, then please get in touch with us to speak to a corporate immigration solicitor.

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