The Threat to International Study in the UK: What You Need to Know

The future looked bleak earlier this month for non-EU international students planning to remain in the UK following graduation. The cause? A plan by Britain’s home secretary Theresa May to eliminate bridging visas and send students home following completion of their overseas studies. Luckily, no one needs to pack their bags yet: the plan was blocked by the chancellor following an aggressive campaign by prominent British business leader James Tyson along with objections from former universities minister David Willetts. Here’s what you need to know about May’s plan and how it may still affect international students in the UK.

A Closer Look at May’s Plan
Under the current laws, international graduates have up to four months to find a job in the UK. This is already significantly less than the 12 months they have in other English-speaking countries, such as the US, Canada and Australia. May sought a manifesto commitment requiring non-EU students to depart the country immediately following graduation and apply for new visa from their home nations.

In defense of her plan, May cited statistics revealing that while more than 120,000 international students arrive in the UK every year, just over 50,000 leave. If left unchecked, international student numbers could skyrocket to 600,000 by 2020, according to her predictions.

Objectors, however, point out that these figures do not correlate with a downward trend in non-EU numbers brought on by 2012 legislation which shortened the amount of time non-EU grads had to find a job from two years to the current four months. Along with that change came a 5 percent decline in non-EU student entries in 2013, along with a whopping 84 percent drop in the number of grads granted extended visas.

Currently, the UK represents the sole English-speaking nation where non-EU students are on the decline. According to Dyson, this trend has huge potential implications when you factor in the potential loss of the best and brightest international minds to the UK’s workforce. In a country already experiencing a dearth of qualified scientists and engineers, such legislation may result in dire consequences for businesses reliant on overseas talent.

May’s plan stands in firm opposition to the trend in places like the U.S., which has seen an increase in international student numbers, and where green cards are liberally handed out to STEM grads.

What Does This Mean For You?

While the future may be uncertain in terms of future plants to manage migration, the policies for now remain unchanged. Read on for an overview of the current UK visa procedure for international students:

Immigration requirements vary depending on your nationality. EU, EEA and Swiss nationals, along with dual nationals, can enter the UK visa-free with their EEA/Swiss passports. Others fall into one of two categories:

– Visa nationals
– Non-visa nationals

While both visa nationals and non-visa nationals require that a visa be obtained prior to leaving the home country for study periods of six months or more, non-visa nationals don’t need a visa for shorter periods. Instead, they can apply for a student visitor stamp at the airport upon arrival in the UK.

In order to be eligible for a visa to study in the UK, you must have been offered a place by a qualified university, have proven knowledge of the English language, and enough funds to support yourself. You can apply for a visa up to 3 months before your term of study begins, and decisions take less than three weeks.

While the block on May’s plan may seem like a step in the right direction, there is still cause for concern for those in favor of international academic mobility — particularly factoring in recent changes resulting in tighter rules for universities which enroll international students. Whether the chancellor’s response represents a mere finger in the dike or the turning of the tide remains to be seen.