An international student due to be forced out of the UK despite living in the country since he was a teenager has urged the Government to apply its new visa rules to existing graduates.
The changes, announced by Boris Johnson, will allow future students to stay in the UK for two years after graduating in order to find work.
Currently, foreign students are only able to remain in the country for four months after they finish their studies.
However, they will only come into effect for students starting courses in 2020/21 at undergraduate level or above.
Graham (not his real name), an architecture student, has been told he must return to his birthplace Nigeria after finishing his course this year, despite being engaged to his British partner and having moved to the UK as a child.
His fiancee Sandra said the system is not set up to support applicants, adding that the guidance they had received so far had been inconsistent and confusing.
“It’s consuming our lives, affecting our health whilst we go through the process,” she said.
“I can’t stop crying. Any time I think about him having to leave, I struggle to not cry.”
Two immigration lawyers told the PA news agency that unless Graham can secure indefinite leave to stay in the country, he may have little option but to comply and go back to Nigeria to claim a fiance or spouse visa.
Katie Newbury, senior associate at Kingsley Napley’s immigration practice, said if he did so he should prepare for a “lengthy absence” from the UK.
Similarly, Saya Uotani, 23, from Tokyo, is studying journalism at Sheffield University and is due to graduate next summer.
She said she would like to stay in the UK after graduation and would like the Government to give students like her the chance to stay and look for work.
“I would at least appreciate if they could give us one year, that would be a good compromise,” Ms Uotani said.
Louis MacWilliam, head of immigration at Blacks Solicitors, said the changes to the system would have a big impact in future as they would remove the need for employers to sponsor international graduates.
“At the moment, students have to find an employer which has a sponsor licence, which very few have, so for most they just face a dead end at the end of their studies in terms of being able to work here.”
The new proposals, announced by the Prime Minister, cover international students who start courses in 2020/21 at undergraduate level or above.
Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, welcomed the move, but said “we would like to see students who graduate in 2020 eligible for the visa”.
He added: “This will allow ample time for universities, students and employers to understand and implement the new rules.”
Latest figures show that in 2017/18, there were around 319,000 international students, from countries outside of the European Union, studying undergraduate and postgraduate courses at UK universities.
Tens of thousands start courses, and graduate, each year.
Mr Johnson said the changes will help those studying in Britain to begin their careers in the UK.
International students who have successfully completed a course in any subject at an institution with a track record in upholding immigration checks will be able to benefit from the measures.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said the announcement was “very positive news”.
“Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26 billion in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students.
“Not only will a wide range of employers now have access to talented graduates from around the world, these students hold lifelong links.”
However, Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said it was an “unwise” and “retrograde” step which would “likely lead to foreign graduates staying on to stack shelves, as happened before”.
He said: “Our universities are attracting a record number of overseas students, so there is no need to devalue a study visa by turning it into a backdoor route for working here.”
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