Education

What does a Johnson victory mean for international students?

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On 13th December last year, it was confirmed that Tory party leader Boris Johnson had won a thumping majority. Whilst this might have surprised some, to others, it seemed to be an inevitable consequence, due to what Johnson had made the focus of his campaign, Brexit. 

His victory has raised a host of questions about the type of Brexit that Britain will get and what this all means for Britain’s place in the wider world. Most pressing of course for those looking to come and study in the UK is, what does a Boris Johnson victory and another five years of Tory rule mean for them?

The answer is not immediately apparent if one browses through the Queen’s Speech made during the opening of the new Parliament. There is a mention of the government looking to ‘bring in a modern, fair points-based immigration system,’ but details have been scarce.

Consequently, for an indication, it would seem prudent to look further back, perhaps even as far as September 2019, when the battle over Brexit was still raging. 

On 11th September, the government announced that it was changing the student-visa policy from the Cameron era, and allowing students who were about to graduate, an extended two-year period in which they could stay in the UK and seek work. 

The new policy did not restrict the types of jobs that foreign students could get, however, the government added that this policy would not come into place until 2021.

Though the policy will not come into place until 2021, when it appears Brexit will be done and dusted, it does suggest that Boris Johnson’s government will pursue a far more liberal and open policy toward international students than his predecessor Theresa May. 

The policy suggests that Boris Johnson and his government will try and follow through on the make Britain ‘the greatest place on earth’ slogan used during his campaign, by embracing the openness to the talent that Boris Johnson was famed for during his tenure as Mayor of London.

Gone is the restrictive four-month frantic job searching period that current foreign students have to undergo after graduation, and incomes to a potentially more forward-thinking and open system, which understands the changing nature of the jobs market and the competition within it.

However, two very serious concerns remain present for international and EU students despite this policy.

First and foremost is the fact that this policy will only apply from 2021 after the Brexit transition period is formally over. This leaves current international students, which there are estimated to be around 458,490 of, who have either recently graduated or are about to graduate, in an extremely difficult position.

As interviews with various international students have shown, there is a sense of a missed opportunity and disappointment that this policy was not put into place much earlier. Which is an understandable response given the highly competitive nature of the job market in the UK and the uncertainty that many of these students will have faced due to issues like Brexit.

The second concern, of course, is whether following the transition period at the end of 2020, EU students will be considered international students and therefore be subject to the same rules as all other international students currently are. 

This naturally has many prospective students from the EU concerned and potentially considering other options. At present, under the terms of the new withdrawal agreement, EU and UK citizens retained Freedom of Movement and the right to live and work in both places for the transition period. 

However, it remains uncertain whether the UK and the EU will be able to agree to a proper settlement once the transition period is over, and thus the status of future EU students is uncertain. 

Consequently, Johnson’s new policy could impact EU students or it could not, but the waiting is sure to be detrimental to recruitment from the EU for the foreseeable future.

Ultimately, other than the change in policy from four months to two years, there does not seem to be any indication that things will change that much for international students under a Boris Johnson government. 

Of course, with the policy only coming into place in 2021, after the end of the transition period, many existing international students have been left feeling abandoned and it’s hard not to see this move as a purely political design to show non-EU countries that a Brexit Britain is still a global Britain. All we can do now is wait and see if any other policies are introduced in 2021.

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