Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 November 2019

UAE pupils optimistic as UK work visas for international students extended to two years

Reformed student visa rules a boon for UAE pupils who were put off studying in UK by country's previous visa restrictions

International students like Mohamed Yassin, 17, will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years after graduating to find a job. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
International students like Mohamed Yassin, 17, will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years after graduating to find a job. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

New rules that allow foreign students to stay in the UK for two years after graduating are expected to attract a lot of interest from Middle Eastern students.

The reformed visa rules, announced by the UK’s Home Office on Tuesday, means students will have an additional 20 months to seek out employment opportunities after finishing their studies.

This policy change has been welcomed by UAE pupils who had planned to study in the UK but were put off by the country's previous visa restrictions.

Since 2012, international students were forced to leave the UK four months after finishing their degree if they had not found a job.

With the previous four month cap in place, there was pressure for foreign graduates to find any job for the sake of securing a visa

Mohamed Yassin, 17, UAE pupil

The controversial residency cap, brought in by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, resulted in many international students seeking study opportunities elsewhere. This two-year post-study visa announcement has instilled some of the confidence that was lost after Ms May’s decision.

The new rules come into effect next year and will apply to students who start courses at undergraduate level or above.

“It’s amazing news … it will impact positively on overseas students and on the UK’s reputation as an education hub,” said Emirati student, Sultan Nasser.

Mr Nasser, 19, enrolled at the University of Manchester last month and will fly to the UK next week to begin a four-year economics and finance undergraduate course.

“At one point last year, during the Brexit debacle and Donald Trump’s controversy in the US, I was thinking of going to study in Australia,” he said.

“The politics were problematic and the UK appeared unstable for me as a student.”

But after receiving a full scholarship to study there, he could not turn down the opportunity.

“These visa reforms have definitely come at the right time for me and I plan to take on a paid internship in the UK after graduating.”

The uncertainty and turmoil created by Brexit in the UK and Mr Trump’s presidency in the US put many international students off studying in the historically popular university destinations. They feared being hit by higher university fees and felt targeted by restricted visa rules.

But many said this new proposal could help reinstate the UK as a first choice study destination.

“It’s a really positive step,” said Emirati student, Shamsa Al Mehairi.

A pupil at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi, Ms Al Mehairi, 17, said the political situation in the UK caused her to deliberate on studying in the UK or UAE.

“I did have some concerns over the rising reports of xenophobia in the UK, but moves like this make us feel more welcome,” she said.

For US-born Mohamed Yassin, 17, the post-study visa extension has swayed him to choose the UK over the US for further studies.

“With the previous four month cap in place, there was pressure for foreign graduates to find any job for the sake of securing a visa,” the BSAK pupil said.

“The policy change means I can take time to find a job more tailored to my degree … that’s reassuring.”

However, he said the rising price of university fees would still deter some students from going to the UK.

Current EU rules mean university students from member states are charged a maximum of Dh45,000 a year in fees to study at English institutions while those from non-EU countries pay up to four times as much.

“If they want this visa policy to benefit the UK economy too, they should introduce a cap on student fees for international students,” he said.

But Razan Awwad, a Canadian-Palestinian pupil of Brighton College Abu Dhabi, disagreed.

She said universities in the UK are held in “high prestige” so it has always been her study destination of choice.

While fees are more expensive for international students, it is a price she is willing to pay.

“I see the student visa extension for graduates as a fair trade off for the high fees we pay,” said Ms Awwad, 17.

“In an ideal world I would like fees to be lower but my focus is on finding the right job following graduation, so for me a better visa status is more attractive.”

Carl Feghali, from Lebanon, said the visa extension is a confidence booster for those looking to study in the UK.

“I plan to study a law degree at Oxford,” the 17-year-old said.

“Given the political situation in the UK the job market has become more competitive, so I would rather take my time after graduating to find the right job for me.”

Updated: September 11, 2019 06:55 PM

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