Post-study work schemes Contents

3Past and present post-study work routes

19.Student visas cover the duration of a student’s course, plus a four month “grace period”. Non-EU international students wishing to stay in the UK to work after their student visa expires must get a work visa. The means by which non-EU international students move from a student visa to a work visa are generally referred to as post-study work routes. Since 2005, there have been three such routes for non-EU international students attending Scottish HEIs, one of which was a Scotland-only scheme. These are:

We outline these routes below, and set out available data on the number of international students who have successfully transferred to work visas under the different schemes.

The Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme

20.The Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme was launched in June 2005 as part of the wider Fresh Talent Initiative, which aimed to encourage people to settle in Scotland. This was in response to a range of pressures that Scotland faced, including an ageing and declining population, and skills and labour market needs.36 The scheme enabled non-EU international students attending Scottish HEIs to remain in or return to the UK, after their studies, in order to work. The main conditions attached to the visa were:

Applicants could apply from within the UK or overseas, and there were no restrictions on the skill or salary level of the work they could take. Permission to stay was granted for a maximum of two years, after which visa holders could apply for other work visas. Figures for grants of leave to remain made under the Fresh Talent scheme are set out below.

Table 4: Grants of leave to remain under the Fresh Talent scheme










Source: HC Deb, 2 December 2014, 215802 [Commons written answer]

The Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa

21.As part of the introduction of the points based immigration system, in 2008 the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa was introduced on a UK-wide basis, replacing the Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland visa. The Post-Study Work visa allowed non-EU international students to remain in the UK to work after their studies for up to two years. Applicants could take up any kind of work, and employers were not required to act as sponsors. If they wanted to stay in the UK after two years they could apply for another visa under the points-based system. Figures on the number of non-EU international students who moved to Post-Study Work visas are set out in Table 5, on page 13.

22.The Government announced, in March 2011, that it would close the Post-Study Work visa to new applicants, and the route was closed on 5 April 2012.37 The Government’s reasons for closing this route were that it had been “too generous” and allowed people to stay in the UK whether they found work or not, and irrespective of the skill level of any job they found.38 The Government’s evidence to this inquiry stated that the “underlying rationale for closing the scheme was the Government’s commitment to applying a limit to non-EEA migration.”39 Ahead of the visa’s closure, the previous Scottish Affairs Committee urged the Government to consider the impact on Scotland of changes to visa arrangements,40 and the Home Affairs Committee suggested that the post-study work route be maintained, in the light of the use of post-study work options to attract the best students.41

Current arrangements

23.Since 2012 there has not been a dedicated post-study work visa, and the main route for non-EU international graduates wishing to stay in the UK to work after their four month “grace period” is the Tier 2 (General) visa for skilled jobs. In order to be eligible for this route graduates must have completed a course at a certain level,42 and have a job offer, with a salary of at least £20,800 (different occupations have their own minimum salary), from an employer which is licensed to sponsor a Tier 2 visa. Although there is a limit on the number of people who can enter the UK under a Tier 2 (General) visa (currently 20,700), this does not apply to non-EU international graduates transferring to a Tier 2 General visa from a Tier 4 visa after completing their studies, provided such an application is made within the UK. Tier 2 jobs are normally subject to a Resident Labour Market Test, where employers must have advertised the job to show that they cannot fill the vacancy with a worker who is already settled in the UK, before taking on a non-EU employee, but this does not apply to transfers from a Tier 4 visa. Non-EU international graduates are able to apply for several other work visas, but the number of people who transfer from a student visa to these visas is very low (as detailed in Table 5). A list of work visas available to non-EU international graduates is provided in an Annex to this report.43

The impact of restricting post-study work routes

24.One of the key questions we asked when we announced this inquiry was: What impact has the closure of the Post-Study Work visa had on Scotland? The clear message we have received is that the impact has been significant, and negative.44

25.The data on non-EU international students moving to work visas shows a drastic fall in the number of people who have moved from student to work visas since the closure of the Post-Study Work visa. The Government’s immigration statistics are not broken down on a geographical basis,45 and as a result the only figures on transfers from student visas to work visas are UK-wide. These are set out below.46

Table 5: Grants to student visa holders of an extension of stay under a work visa (UK)






Tier 1





Of which:

Tier 1 - Post Study





Tier 1 - General





Tier 1 - Investors





Tier 1 - Entrepreneurs





Tier 1 - Graduate Entrepreneur





Tier 2





Of which:

Tier 2 - General





Tier 2 - Intra Company Transfer





Tier 2 - Minister of Religion





Tier 2 - Sportsperson





Tier 5










Source: Home Office, Immigration statistics, April to June 2015

26.These figures show that, since the Post-Study Work visa was closed to new applicants, the number of non-EU international students who have moved from a student visa to a work visa has fallen by over 80%. This fall is significantly higher than the UK Border Agency predicted in its impact assessment of closing the visa, which estimated a reduction of approximately 49%.47

27.As the only available Home Office figures are UK-wide it is impossible to identify the exact impact on Scotland, but our evidence has suggested that the fall in the number of international students moving to work visas has been at least as pronounced in Scotland as elsewhere in the UK.48 We have heard that closing the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa has had an adverse impact on access to talent, and resulted in increased skill shortages in key sectors of the Scottish economy.49 Representatives from the education sector also told us that it meant Scottish universities were losing out when it came to attracting international students to Scotland.50

28.The closure of the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa in 2012 has resulted in the number of non-EU international students moving to work visas after their studies falling by over 80%. This is far beyond what the Government predicted in its impact assessment of closing this route, indicating the results have been more drastic than intended. It is extremely disappointing that the Home Office is not able to identify the specific impact to Scotland, but we have heard that it has been significant and negative.

38 Ibid

39 UK Government (PSW0020), para 8

40 Scottish Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2010–12, The Student Immigration System in Scotland, HC 912-I, para 7

41 Home Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2010–12, Student Visas, HC 773, para 58

42 To switch to a Tier 2 visa, Tier 4 student visa holders must have successfully completed and passed a UK recognised bachelor’s or master’s degree, Postgraduate Certificate in Education or Professional Graduate Diploma of Education or have completed a minimum of 12 months study in the UK towards a UK PhD during their current period of leave or a period of continuous leave 1 which includes their last grant of leave.

43 Annex – UK visas.

44 Scottish Government (PSW0011), University of Edinburgh (PSW0016), University of Glasgow (PSW0023), Q14 [Alan Mackay], Q37 [Helen Martin], Q69 [Humza Yousaf MSP], Q122 [Jamie Kerr], Q122 [Stuart McWilliams]

45 Scottish Government, Post Study Work Working Group: Report to Ministers, March 2015

46 Figures on work visas granted to student visa holders are only available from 2011.

48 Q59

49 SCDI (PSW0005), City of Edinburgh Council (PSW0015)

50 Q19 [Professor Sir Ian Diamond], Q19 [Alan Mackay]

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Prepared 10 February 2016