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UK: MAC report recommends post-study work, but not a new visa

A relaxing of some post-study work rights is the good news in the freshly published Migration Advisory Committee report in the UK – but the committee has ruled out the suggestion from industry that students should be removed from immigration statistics.

A route to greater opportunity has been missed, according to key stakeholders. Photo: Laurie Noble

Manning admitted the evidence was not strong, and suggest a review of PSW

The report argues for an extension to current PhD visas, to embed one year of work rights as standard, and a further extension to a trial for those studying MSc courses. This is seen as necessary to assist the UK’s STEM fields.

“We do not recommend a separate post-study work visa”

For the undergraduate market, an extension of the timeframe offer to access the Tier 2 Visa route is suggested: currently graduates of UK HEIs can apply for another visa, within four months of course completion. The MAC suggested this is extended to two years, and that graduates should not be expected to remain in the UK for the entirety of that period.

“We recommend that PhD students automatically be given one year’s leave to remain after completion of studies, that the current MSc pilot should be extended so all these students have six months, and that the window of opportunity to apply for a Tier 2 visa be widened,” the author and MAC leader Alan Manning wrote.

However, the report stopped short of recommending a new visa category for post-study work, as had been proposed by UUKi and others. MAC wrote that its own proposals would have the desired effect.

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said UUK was “disappointed with [the] main recommendations”.

“We agree that the government and the sector should continue to work together to grow the number of international students, but growth will only be possible if we have an immigration system that encourages talented international students to choose the UK.”

She pointed out that only one week ago, UUK called for a new graduate visa that would make the UK more attractive to students. “This improved post-study visa would put us on a par with what is offered by countries such as the US, Canada and Australia.”

Manning stated in the report: “We do not recommend a separate post-study work visa though our proposals on automatic leave to remain at the end of study have some of the same effect.”

“If a longer post-study work period seems warranted our advice could change”

He further argued that a longer grace period for international students would not assist the “most highly skilled”.

“One reason for not recommending a longer post-study work period is that the earnings of some graduates who remain in the UK seem surprisingly low and it is likely that those who would benefit from a longer period to find a graduate level job are not the most highly skilled.”

But crucially, Manning also admitted the evidence for this claim “is not as strong as it could be,” and called for anther report to be commissioned into PSW directly.

“If, after that evaluation, a longer post-study work period seems warranted our advice could change,” MAC concluded.

MAC acknowledged that those in the sector wanted greater extension but noted: “we know that the sector will be disappointed by our recommendations on post-study work but demand for UK education should not be based on work rights.”

“We do not see any upside for the sector in leaving the EU”

Despite parts of the report coming as a surprise to many (especially after Universities Minister Sam Gyimah joined calls for a stronger PSW offering), one point is unlikely to cause shock anywhere in the UK education sector.

“We do not, though, see any upside for the sector in leaving the EU: any barriers to student mobility are likely to have a negative impact,” the report made clear.

Reacting to the report, managing director of Study Group UK & Europe James Pitman, told The PIE the report is a “missed opportunity”.

“What I see [is] a lot of… status quo. We know post-study work is one the biggest achilles heels we have in comparison to our competitors.

“It’s disappointing,” Pitman concluded.

Then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd commissioned the report in August 2017, asking the MAC to look at “the impact of tuition fees and other spending by international students; economic and social impacts beyond education, including on the labour market; and the impact the recruitment of international students has on the provision and quality of education provided to domestic students”.

The report underlines the significant value of this sector to the UK: Department for Education estimated the export value of international students at £17.6 billion in 2015.

It also nodded to the UK’s decline of market share although it has enjoyed growth: “30% over the past nine years, though much more slowly in recent years”.

And following changes to the post-study visa rules in 2012, the numbers applying for a visa extension for work have dropped sharply – from over 45,000 to around 6,000. This impacted markets such as India considerably.

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