Using the findings of the International Students Post-Study Employment and Enterprise Survey to illustrate the severity of the impact of the Tier 1 post-study work (PSW) visa withdrawal in 2012, the NUS has called for reinstatement of the policy, along with a reform of the Tier 2 general visa that allows companies to only sponsor employees earning over £20,000 in a skilled role.
“The UK is suffering reputational damage both because of its wider policies towards international students and its post-study work offer”
In its submission to the All-Parliamentary Group on Migration Inquiry into the Post Study Work Route launched last year, the union drew a direct link between the scrapping of the visa and declining international student numbers in the UK.
“There is evidence that the UK is suffering reputational damage internationally both because of its wider policies towards international students and its post-study work offer,” it said.
Of the 1,599 international students who gave valid responses to the survey, those from India and Pakistan – whose numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years – were most likely not to recommend family and friends to study in the UK, at 60% and 55%, along with Nigeria at 57%.
Interest in working in the UK either during or after study remains high, and consistent with the results of the last survey in 2012, 70% said they would be interested in seeking employment in the UK following graduation.
In fact, 47% of students said the opportunity to stay and work temporarily after their studies fuelled their interest to study in the UK, although the primary attraction remains the quality of education, cited by 63%.
However, students are not optimistic about their chances of obtaining post-study employment, with nearly two thirds saying they are not confident at all or only somewhat confident that they will be able to find work.
One perceived obstacle is the time needed for job searching – 38% of students estimated they would need an extra four months once their study visa has run out to find a job.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous to shut out a whole group of people who want to contribute to this country’s economy”
Another is the Tier 2 £20,000 earnings threshold, as 42% intend to apply for micro-medium sized businesses which, the report notes, are anecdotally less likely to be Tier 2 sponsors.
With the All-Parlimentary Group inquiry due to report in early 2015, the NUS’s proposed reforms include lowering the salary requirements for a Tier 2 visa, simplifying the sponsorship process for small to medium-sized firms and charities and adding more time at the end of student visas to allow foreign graduates to find a sponsor.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous to shut out a whole group of people who want to contribute to this country’s economy just to meet a political agenda,” commented NUS International Students’ Office Shreya Paudel.
“This is why, in the run up to the general election, I want to see the government provide all non-EU international students with the right to work, free from restriction, for 12 months after study,” he added.
The future of the policy remains to be seen as the ruling Conservative party continues its hardline rhetoric against post-study work as just last month Home Secretary Theresa May revealed plans to force all non-EU graduates to return home even if they intend to remain in the UK and switch to a work visa category from home.
Meanwhile the Labour party hasn’t commented on post-study work rights specifically but has promised to take international students out of net migration figures if elected in May.