Last month the government announced the Graduate visa scheme, through which non-EU/EEA students graduating from a UK university could be granted a 2-year work visa. This was seen as a reimplementation of the previous Post-Study Work visa, which was scrapped by the then-Home Secretary Theresa May back in 2012 in an attempt to bring down the net migration figure, under the background of the infamous “Hostile Environment” policy. Speculation remained over the last few weeks as to whether this new visa scheme could benefit current students who have already started their courses before the scheme was announced. Given the Conservative party’s track record on immigration policies, the outlook was mostly negative.

A twist came as the government responded to an online petition titled “Bring the date for the post-study work visa closer to help current students”, which received more than 26,000 signatures as of 11 October. The response, issued by the Home Office, states that “[a]ny student who successfully completes their degree-level course at a qualifying institution in the summer of 2021 or thereafter will be eligible to apply”. This means that the year of entry will not affect the eligibility for this scheme, so long as the student completes the course in or after summer 2021. In practical terms, this would mostly benefit 3-year Bachelor programme students who started after 2018, as well as 4-year integrated Master programme students who started after 2017. Those who will finish before summer 2021, however, are excluded from this scheme.

While the 2-year graduate visa will not require graduates to earn more than a certain salary threshold, graduates must apply for the generic Tier-2 work visa should they wish to remain in the UK after the 2-year period has elapsed. Current immigration policies require people to earn more than £30,000 per year to be eligible for this visa category, with some limited exceptions. This threshold is likely to increase as the Tory-affiliated think tank Centre for Social Justice has urged the government to set the threshold to £36,700 per year in a policy recommendation paper published in August. Policy recommendations from CCJ have heavily influenced actual policies set out by the Conservative administration in the past, including the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit system. It was widely speculated that the government will listen to this proposal.

The uncertainty remains as to whether the current government can last until 2021. Should the Conservative party fail to form a government after the imminent yet-to-be-called General Election, the 2-year graduate visa scheme will not be implemented exactly as how it was announced. However, almost all the major opposition parties, including Labour and the Liberal Democrats, are in favour of reforming the current immigration policies established by Theresa May’s 9-year tenure as the Home Secretary and then the Prime Minister. Labour has consistently supported UK graduates’ right to work and called for the Tier-2 visa salary threshold to be lowered. On the other hand, since the Brexit Party lead by Nigel Farage has done consistently well in recent opinion polls, it is not impossible for the Conservative party to form a minority government with the Brexit Party, in which case the Brexit Party may press for a more hard-line immigration policy to further reduce the net migration figure.

It should be noted, however, that neither the graduate visa scheme nor the visa salary threshold should affect EU, EEA and Swiss nationals already in the UK. All EU, EEA and Swiss nationals currently living in the UK can apply through the EU Settlement Scheme to remain in the UK after Brexit. This is true regardless of the political situations surrounding Brexit, including in the no-deal scenario.