Foreign Gradutes Get A Fighting Chance From 2020 Onwards

Claudia Silva - Guest Writer

“I am going home with a very expensive piece of paper.” This profound sentiment felt by many foreign graduates was said by Shreya Swamy, a Master’s student in the University for the Creative Arts in the UK, in an interview with the BBC. She had moved from India to the UK to pursue her higher education and has highlighted to the BBC the reality of the situation that international students face after completing their education.

With Theresa May’s restrictive immigration policy, international students have been left with 4 months after their graduation to find a job in the UK. Although the Home Office’s latest immigration white paper extended the 4-month “job-hunt” period to a 6-month period with its Tier 4 (Pilot) Visa Scheme (and those with doctorates were extended to a full year to find work in the UK), the hoops that international students were forced to jump through were far too many and far too onerous. With unrealistically high salary thresholds, the cap on Tier 2 visa allocation, and various other hoops for employers to jump through as well, it is no wonder that employers are extremely hesitant to sponsor an international graduate. For example, the minimum salary threshold for a new entrant in the legal sector (not a solicitor or a barrister, but any other legal professional) is £35,700 per annum. Yes, you read it correctly. £35,700 for a new entrant into that job field in the UK. It is clear to see that it is an unrealistic threshold, especially as in reality, the average salary per annum for a legal assistant for instance, is approximately £18,000. No doubt employers in the UK would consider it to be much less hassle and cost significantly less to hire someone “local” even though they are less qualified for the job than the international graduate. International graduates barely had a fighting chance in the job-hunt in the UK, and many were forced to give up on their dreams and waste the thousands of pounds of tuition fees spent on their education in the UK by seeking other avenues to make money. To put it into an even worse light, right next door in Ireland, their Third Level Graduate Scheme provides a 24-month “stay back option” to seek employment for international postgraduates which came into force in 2017 and work for up to 40 hours a week (whereas in the UK it is only 20 hours a week).

Such tight restrictions on immigration policy like the one Theresa May put forward were in defiance of globalisation. It would seem that Britain suddenly became very afraid to lose their “British” identity as the world grew more connected in light of commercial growth and technological advancement brought on by Google, Facebook, and numerous other platforms, thus leading to the fight for Brexit and the tightening of immigration policies to the detriment of both international graduates and the UK's economy. Instead of hiring people who were best qualified for the job which would essentially promote the employer’s best interests, these employers had to sift through the pool of graduates from UK universities to find those legally easier to hire. And who could blame them? It is human nature to avoid hardships wherever possible. The fault lies with the policy-makers. Their near-sightedness has led to many international students paying thousands of pounds to pursue a better education than they can find in their own countries only to find themselves being forced to return to their countries with shattered dreams and unable to work in the field that they spent a fortune pursuing.

However, all hope is not lost for the international graduates of 2020 onwards. They will be offered 2 years after graduating to stay on in the UK to find work. Under this new policy, there would be no cap on the number of visas and graduates would be allowed to find employment in whatever field regardless of their academic pursuit. Gavin Williamson, the education secretary stated:

“The important contribution international students make to our country and universities is both cultural and economic. Their presence benefits Britain, which is why we’ve increased the period of time these students can remain in the UK after their studies.
Our universities thrive on being open global institutions. Introducing the graduate route ensures our prestigious higher education sector will continue to attract the best talent from around the world to a global Britain.”

Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of Universities UK illustrated the economic aspect of Theresa May’s visa regime, stating that it had put the UK at a “competitive disadvantage” in recruiting international students, as these students did not see any point in spending a fortune in an expensive education with living expenses that are not cheap, only to find that it was utterly useless. This author finds that only positive outcomes flow from the enactment of this new regime for both international students and the UK’s economy. The education sector is a very integral part of the UK’s economy, and the government aims to stretch the number of international students from the 460,000 students educated last year, to 600,000 students over the next 10 years.

I personally commend the new regime as it encourages globalisation and also provides students from all over the world with the opportunity to become better, more skilled human beings. And it is always good to encourage growth. Like a chain, the personal growth of a student would eventually lead to the growth of the employer’s professional trade, which in turn would lead to the growth of the country’s economy.

This regime, however, does not totally rid international graduates of all its hurdles to be able to work in the UK. This regime does not tackle the minimum annual salary threshold, unfortunately. That still remains an immense barrier that international graduates will have to face. Moreover, this regime is only affecting the graduates of the year 2020. Being a graduate of 2019, me and the rest of the graduates before the year 2020 are excluded from being allowed two years to properly seek employment. Many would find this incredibly unfair as all the money spent pursuing this expensive education would be for naught and they are forced to return back to their home countries where prospects may be less. For example, with regards to Malaysian students that pursue law degrees in the UK, many of these graduates are forced to return back to Malaysia because of the strict visa regime, and many find themselves unable to continue practising as lawyers due to onerous systems set in place (namely that the pupillage, or “chambering” system often does not result in tenancy in Malaysia). They find themselves forced into other forms of employment. Those of us graduates before this new regime comes into force feel the weight of Shreya Swamy’s words. However, in light of the UK Parliament’s main focus being Brexit, I have to say that I am not entirely hopeful that there is anything to be done for those affected by Theresa May’s onerous visa regime.



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