In what could be troubling for thousands of Indian and international students in the UK, Home Secretary Suella Braverman is reportedly planning to cut the period of stay for an overseas student under the post-study visa route.
The proposal comes as the UK and India are expected to come to the table for the seventh round of talks regarding their Free Trade Agreement (FTA). However, extra student visas are not part of the negotiations, according to Kemi Badenoch, United Kingdom’s International Trade Secretary, who was in India last month.
What are the possible changes?
According to UK media reports, the Goan-origin Tory minister is mulling the idea of reforming the Graduate Route Visa, which benefits thousands of international students in the UK, who can stay in the UK for at least 2 years after completing a course and finding work. In the case of doctoral students, they can stay for three years.
A report by The Times has highlighted that Braverman, who has been critical of the heavy influx of international students and student visa dependents coming to the UK, is mulling requiring non-UK nationals to obtain a work visa after getting a skilled job or leave the UK in 6 months.
Disagreements within the UK establishment
There is some disagreement in the UK government over the changes, as supporters of Braverman’s plans argue that the Graduate Route Visa is being misused by students, who are on short courses at non-elite institutions, according to the report.
Though the UK’s Department of Education is trying to resist the plans due to it possibly leading the country to be a less attractive study destination, restrictions on international students have been pursued by the Rishi Sunak-led UK government for a while as the country hit its target of 600,000 students last year.
International students at an all-time high in UK
Numbers released by the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that around 680,000 foreign students are studying in the country with the overall number of students coming from India standing at 126,535, a rise of 50% compared with the previous year when UK institutions welcomed 84,555 students from the country.
The growing accommodation crisis in the UK is also not helping the case for international students as they are facing problems in finding affordable accommodation in the country, as reported by the Free Press Journal.
Move comes amid backlash from academic circles
The possible move assumes significance in light of previous reports, which suggested that the UK government has abandoned its plans to restrict international students, who are not studying in top universities after coming under intense fire from academic organisations in the country, including Universities UK, Russell Group, and many more.
"Limiting international students would be an act of economic self-harm that would damage many parts of the country the government aims to make more prosperous,” said the statement by Universities UK, while highlighting that international students contribute 26 billion pounds per year to the country’s economy.
Hrithik Bhate is a student in the UK in his final placement year, who like many others is waiting on his graduate route visa. “Many of the students here (UK) do come to bring their families over in the future. The people getting into the universities are coming on low scores and are not fluent in English. The ones who actually want to stay back and make a career for themselves are the ones who have to suffer,” stated Bhate, who believes 6 months is too less of a duration and students should have a year in hand.
The graduate route visa, which was launched in July 2021, came after multiple reservations over bringing in a post-study work visa in the last decade. According to consultants, reforming the visa can impact the UK as an international education market.
“Years ago, when the UK restricted international students from working there after studying, the number of international students dropped drastically. The same will happen if the UK tinkers with the existing work permit rules. Indian students, like most international students, want to work abroad and make a career overseas and hence choose to study abroad. If you take this away from them, students will go to other countries,” stated Karan Gupta, Founder of the Karan Gupta Education Foundation.
Student visa dependents also under the radar of Braverman
Braverman, who had resigned earlier over a gaffe related to an official document during Liz Truss’s tenure, was reinstated by Sunak despite her vocal opposition to Indian migrants, who she claimed made up the chunk of the overstayers in the country despite the UK Home Office data suggesting that only a tiny proportion, 4.4%, of Indian migrants overstayed their visas.
The Minister’s opposition over student visa dependents will also lead to changes in the future, according to Times, as foreign students will be allowed to bring dependent family members with them only if they were on postgraduate research-based courses such as Ph.D., or postgraduate courses that were at least two years long.
"Our points-based system is designed to be flexible according to the UK’s needs, including attracting top-class talent from across the world to contribute to the UK’s excellent academic reputation and to help keep our universities competitive on the world stage,” a government spokesperson told Times while adding that the “ immigration policies are under constant review to reflect public’s priorities.”
Inputs from Abhishek Nair
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