Despite the impact of Covid-19 on study abroad numbers, the UK government target of attracting 600,000 international students by 2030 is still “completely achievable”, according to the Home Office head of Student Migration Policy.
Speaking during a session at the IHE 2020 Policy Live virtual conference, Paul Jeffery said the government is “fully signed up” to increase the number of international higher education students in the country, and that the intention of the new immigration system is to keep it as “simple and successful” as possible,
“The first rule in this new system launched on October 5 and is now live for applications. The rest of the first step of this new immigration system, including the new flagship points-based skilled worker route, will launch on December 1,” he told delegates.
Jeffery reminded that the new graduate route is very much a part of the system and “will be launching in the summer of 2021”.
“I can’t be any more specific than summer at the moment because the technological and infrastructure work that needs to go into building it hasn’t yet started,” he said.
Regarding the new route, Jeffery said the intention of the government was to keep it “as simple and as successful as possible”.
“Once you’re on the route, there is absolutely no maintenance requirement, no sponsorship requirement, no English language requirement. And pretty much all you need to be able to do is to demonstrate that you’ve successfully completed your course,” he added.
“You can work in any profession at any skill level while on the route for two years if you successfully completed a course at degree or master’s level, and three years if you have successfully completed a course at a doctorate level.
“We think that time will really give students an opportunity to get the experience they need and in order to move through the immigration system and contribute to the UK,” he continued.
However, Jeffery said there are policy questions that still need to be answered, particularly around eligibility for those who are studying articulation degrees and may have done two years outside and two years inside the UK.
The other outstanding question is around how the Home Office is told that someone is eligible for the route, he said.
“We effectively need some mechanism by which the Home Office is able to know that someone has successfully completed their course in order for them to make their application, and we’ve been working closely with UKCISA and others to work out the best way to to do this,” Jeffery continued.
“Those on the route will need to pay the immigration health surcharge, and they will need to pay an application fee for the route. I don’t know what that application fee is going to be yet. So that’s another thing to watch out for.
“I hope we have all of the policy signed off by the end of the year. We will then write the legislation, write guidance, and hopefully this will be put into legislation about April time.”
Jeffery said the new routes were sending “a good message internationally”.
“One of the key things that we’re trying to do with the graduate route in particular is to keep it as simple as we possibly can.
“I think that’s a real advantage that we may have over some of our competitors who perhaps based their post-study options on the way you study, the way you plan to work regionally or more so on the level of study,” he added.
Regarding the Covid-19 situation which has meant many students have started or will be finishing courses through distance learning, Jeffery said the government is still “keen” for students to be studying in the UK in order to be eligible for the graduate route.
“The reason for this is that because we are not insisting on the maintenance requirements, we need to have that assurance that students have been in the UK and have demonstrated that they have been able to abide by the terms of their visas,” he said.
“And we would not have this assurance for someone who has not studied in the UK.”
In order to be eligible for the routes, “at the moment we are permitting students who may have started studying abroad”, he continued.
“As long as they are in the UK by Easter Monday [April 5], then they will be able to apply for the route,” he said.
“We will, of course, keep the date under review. I think it’s probably unwise to predict exactly where we’re going to be in terms of the pandemic and the global response by that date,” he added.
“I’ve seen first hand the enormous benefits that international engagement can bring,” he told delegates.
“Therefore, I’m really keen to support the education sector in achieving international ambitions.”
Smith said that following consultation with the sector, it has been agreed that initially there’ll be five countries on which he will focus his attention on and promote the UK’s offering.
“These will be India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, and officials are currently draughting engagement plans for me to begin to meet virtually at first with some of the key stakeholders in these countries to begin to establish a dialogue in slower time.”
Smith said that there will be additional countries added to that list, as well as increasing engagement with Europe.
“Our international education offer may be world renowned and the global benchmark in some areas,” he added.
“But with so many hungry and capable competitors snapping at our heels now, a refresh of the 2019 International Education Strategy is currently in preparation and will hopefully be published later this year.“