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Impact of Brexit on International Students

Brexit – Impact of Brexit on International Students

by Dushyant Patni

The UK has consistently maintained its place amongst the top study abroad destinations globally. It is home to 3 of the top 10 universities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings for 2020 and has managed to stay competitive with other nations due to its long history of academic excellence and by providing internationally recognized degrees to students. In 2016, the British government held a vote which resulted in the decision of Britain exiting the European Union or EU, known colloquially as ‘Brexit’.  This article seeks to examine the impact Brexit may have on international students and the policy changes it may entail. 

What is Brexit? 

Brexit is a linguistic blend of words that combines ‘British’ and ‘exit’. It means the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

The United Kingdom became a member of an international political and economic community called the EU or European Union in 1973. The EU is supposed to be a unified trade and monetary body consisting of 28 member countries which allows for free borderless movement of trade, goods and people. Over time the EU expanded its role and the economies of the member nations became heavily intertwined. This trade structure allowed the EU to become the world’s second-largest economy after China. In 2018, the GDP of the EU was USD 22 trillion while China’s was USD 25.3 trillion. Find more about UK universities, courses and intakes

On June 23, 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union as a majority of the country felt that the free movement of people and trade has negatively affected the UK which resulted in a conflict of ideals between the major parties and their supporters. Another issue that was the primary concern of voters who were in support of Brexit was immigration. In 2015, 1.2 million refugees from Africa and the Middle East poured into Europe and on New Year’s Eve 2016, gangs of refugees across Germany went on a crime spree that involved theft and sexual assault. As a result, many EU countries sealed their borders and regulation of immigrants was the primary reason the UK majority voted in favor of leaving the EU. Study Abroad

The British government initiated the leaving proceedings in March 2017 but due to circumstances the final date was extended to 31st January 2020. The UK finally divorced the EU at 23:00 GMT on 31st January 2020.  There will now be an 11-month transition period till 31st December 2020, during which the prior rules and regulations negotiated between the EU and the UK will still apply while the future legislations are still in the process of being discussed. Read Study in UK

Impact of Brexit on International Students – The Positives and Negatives 

The exact timeline and future regulatory impact on international students due to Brexit are not clear yet. Universities and educators have been very clear in stating that international students will be welcomed in the UK with open arms. However, laws and visa regulations are handled by the government, and the officials have publicly stated that their main focus will be to limit immigration, workers and students included. In a white paper published on December 19, home secretary Sajid Javid said “… we bring free movement to an end, different rules to the current ones must apply to migration here by EU citizens,”

The new rules and regulations are set to come into play by 2021, which has caused a lot of concern to British Universities who currently have 50,000 EU staff and 130,000 EU students as part of their campus. A collective of over 150 higher education providers have openly stated that the UK leaving the EU without any pre-negotiated deals is one of the biggest threats faced by the university system. In an open letter to politicians published on January 4th, they wrote: 

“Vital research links will be compromised, from new cancer treatments to technologies combating climate change. The valuable exchange of students, staff and knowledge would be seriously damaged. And we share the concerns of business about the impact of no deal on everything from supply chains to security and travel. It is no exaggeration to suggest that this would be an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover.”

This, however, may be a positive for Indian students who are looking to study in the UK as leading universities in the country are very likely to increase their recruitment of overseas students to make up for the reduced number of EU international students. According to a BBC news report from December 2019, the UK government is planning to reduce tuition fees for domestic candidates down to £6,500 per year compared to the £12,000 and above that is paid by international students annually, which means that attracting more foreign students from outside the EU will be a lucrative endeavor for universities. 

In the same white paper, Home Secretary Javid had stated that international students at British universities will be given 6-months post-study permission to find permanent jobs and to work temporarily during that period. Candidates who have completed a PhD will be given a year instead. The minimum salary threshold does remain the same at £30,000 and businesses still have to spend a lot of money to sponsor workers, but this time students from EU nations will be on the same playing field as other international students. ReadUK Scholarships

New Graduate Immigration Route

In 2012, former Home Secretary Theresa May had reduced the period of time that international students can remain in the country after completing their studies from 2 years to 4 months. This ruling led to a massive drop in the numbers of international students coming to the UK for their higher studies. This decision has now been reversed and all eligible international graduates will be allowed to remain in the country to work or to find work for 2 years starting in 2020/21. The new visa rules will come into effect for all international students that begin their studies in autumn 2020 or later. According to data available to the ICEF monitor,  the UK has aimed to attract 600,000 international students by 2030. During the first 2 years after graduation, PSW (post-study work) visa holders can work in any job they can find, and the goal is for them to transition into a general work visa afterwards.

  • This visa will allow international graduates to stay in the UK for two years to work, or look for work in any sector, industry or level of skill. 
  • Students who complete a course at the undergraduate level or higher from the summer of 2021 will be eligible to apply for this route. Those who graduate before the route is introduced and those whose Tier 4 visa expires before the route is introduced will not be eligible. 
  • A new visa application will need to be made albeit this time through a much simpler process and a sponsor will not be required. 
  • There will be an application fee and applicants will have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge. 
  • Students who have completed a degree at the undergraduate level or higher and who still hold a valid Tier 4 visa will be eligible to apply after the route is launched. 
  • It will be possible to switch from the graduate visa into the skilled work visa which will be dependent upon meeting the requirements that have yet to be revealed. 

The home ministry gave the following statement in regards to this new immigration route: 

“It takes time to develop a new immigration route and ensure the framework is in place for it to successfully operate. Introducing the route in the summer of 2021 will mean that all students who graduate in the summer of 2021 or after will benefit, regardless of when they started their course. The route was announced in September 2019 to ensure that universities and stakeholders could promote the route when attracting prospective students.”


Impact of Brexit on international students – FAQs

Q. Where did the term ‘Brexit’ come from?

‘Brexit’ is a combination of the words ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’, which was coined by the media to refer to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. The word would come to signify the decade for the UK during which Brexit dominated political conversations and secured its place in the popular lexicon.

Q. What were the main reasons behind Brexit?

According to the experts, there are a multitude of reasons how Brexit came about, but the most significant one was immigration. Due to unrest in the Middle East, a large number of refugees crossed over into Europe in 2015. This led to an increase in crime and other incidents, that caused the majority of the country to demand stricter immigration laws and the ability to control their own borders.

Q. Who is eligible for the post-study work visa?

Any international student who holds a valid Tier 4 visa and enrols at a UK institution from September 2020 will be allowed to stay in the UK after graduation to find a job. This is an extension of rule changes which allowed PhDs to stay in the UK after graduation. The UK has stated these rule changes came into effect because it wants to grow its STEM industry fields. From 2020 onwards the option will be open to all graduates.

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