An overhaul of international student visa rules should apply to those due to graduate in the coming months, it has been suggested.

Current overseas students due to graduate next year are unlikely to benefit from major changes, announced by the Prime Minister, which will allow future students to stay in the UK for two years after graduating in order to find work.

It is understood that international students due to finish their courses imminently may not benefit because the overhaul will be introduced next year as part of a new immigration system.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The proposals, announced by the Prime Minister, cover international students who start courses in 2020/21 at undergraduate level or above.

It is understood it will also apply to those already on higher education courses with Tier 4 visas (a general student visa) when the changes are introduced.

But this means it is not expected to apply, for example, to those currently studying in the UK and due to graduate next year.

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, welcomed the move, but said “we would like to see students who graduate in 2020 eligible for the visa”.

He added: “This will allow ample time for universities, students and employers to understand and implement the new rules.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said that while it would have been beneficial if the change had applied to current international students, the fact that it applies to future generations is not “catastrophic”.

“It would have been good if this had been applied retrospectively, but nobody has been misled about anything,” he said.

“When the current crop of students were applying they knew the rules under which they were applying. If this really mattered to them they probably wouldn’t have come to the UK, they would have gone to somewhere like Australia or Canada.

“They might be feeling that it’s a little bit unfair, for example, if you’re an Indian student currently in the UK and you will be having a younger sibling joining you under the new rules.

“But I don’t think it is catastrophic (that the rules are not retrospective).”

Latest figures show that in 2017/18, there were around 319,000 international students, from countries outside of the European Union, studying undergraduate and postgraduate courses at UK universities.

Tens of thousands start courses, and graduate, each year.

Boris Johnson said the changes will help those studying in Britain to begin their careers in the UK.

International students who have successfully completed a course in any subject at an institution with a track record in upholding immigration checks will be able to benefit from the measures.

The announcement, which has been widely welcomed, coincided with the launch of the world’s largest genetics project, the £200 million whole genome sequencing project in the UK Biobank, which aims to transform genetic research.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “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.

“It demonstrates our global outlook and will ensure that we continue to attract the best and brightest.”

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said the announcement was “very positive news”.

“Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26 billion in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students.

“The introduction of a two-year post-study work visa is something Universities UK has long campaigned for and we strongly welcome this policy change, which will put us back where we belong as a first choice study destination.

“Not only will a wide range of employers now have access to talented graduates from around the world, these students hold lifelong links.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

However, Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said it was an “unwise” and “retrograde” step which would “likely lead to foreign graduates staying on to stack shelves, as happened before”.

He said: “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.”

Saya Uotani, 23, from Tokyo, is studying journalism at Sheffield University and due to graduate next summer.

She said she would like to stay in the UK after graduation, and would like the Government to give students like her the chance to stay and look for work.

“I would at least appreciate if they could give us one year, that would be a good compromise,” Ms Uotani said.

“It is not enough time to secure a job in four months, a year would be much more reasonable.”