The Home Secretary, Theresa May, made an announcement on student visas today in Parliament. Overall, the announcement significantly waters-down the proposals originally put forward by the UK Border Agency.
The post-study work route will now be rolled into Tier 2, meaning that students must have a job offer from an employer with a UKBA Tier 2 sponsor license before they complete their course if they want to stay in the UK.
However, there will be no limit on the number of students who can take up this Tier 2 option, and employers wishing to recruit international graduates will not need to undertake a Residents Labour Market Test ie will not need to prove that the job could not be filled by a UK graduate.
NUS is calling for urgent clarification on whether current students, who entered the UK with a legitimate expectation that they would be able to take the post-study work route will still be able to take this up.
Aaron Porter said, 'By severely restricting the ability of international graduates to put their skills into practice and contribute to the UK economy the Home Secretary has removed a huge incentive for talented students to come to the UK, bringing with them much-needed funds and knowledge.
'It is clear that the consensus opinion from students, universities and business that her original proposals would be disastrous if implemented have forced her to water down some of her proposals. However, the Home Secretary has still risked a highly profitable export industry by choosing to target one easy area in her quest to arbitrarily reduce student numbers.
'Her statement did not make clear whether students already in the UK on the understanding that they would have the option to work after graduation will still have that route open to them. I would ask the Home Secretary to confirm that students who have contributed tens of thousands of pounds each to UK universities will not have the goal posts moved after they have begun their course.'
All institutions sponsoring student visas must gain accreditation and Highly Trusted Sponsor status by the end of 2012 . This was not in the original set of proposals and is probably a positive outcome to protect the quality of student education, although the Highly Trusted Sponsor system has come under criticism for being too slow and not transparent.
Students coming to the UK to take a course at degree level will be expected to have a higher level of English than previously. Students will be able to enter the UK to take pathway courses to improve their English before taking up a degree place as long as they are sponsored by a university. Universities will be able to vouch for a student's standard of English and those students coming to study outside a university will have to present a test certificate from an independent test provider.
Students at universities and publicly-funded further education colleges will retain the same working rights as they have now - 20 hours per week in term-time for HE students and 10 hours per week for FE.
Only postgraduate students and those sponsored by their governments to study will be able to bring dependants to the UK. It has not been stated whether dependants will be able to work.
Proposals on requiring students to show evidence of progression in their course level, and to return home to reapply for a new course seems ot have been scrapped. However, there will be a new five-year limit on any higher education student visa with exemptions for longer courses such as medicine, and for PhD students.
Read the full UK Border Agency summary here.