Immigration has been and continues to be at the forefront of the Government’s agenda. As the media continues to report heavily on asylum and refugee cases, one area of immigration that is quietly being targeted in the upcoming years are foreign nationals on Tier 4 student visa that wish to work whilst studying in the UK, and foreign graduates who wish to work in the UK after their graduation.

One major change that the Government will soon be implementing (expected to come into place from November 2015) is a ban on all foreign college students from being able to switch visas to Tier 2 or Tier 5 categories whilst in the UK. The new proposal will require Tier 4 student visa holders to leave and apply from outside the UK. Another recent change saw foreign students currently studying at a publicly funded college or private college being prohibited to work altogether.

The Governments’ bureaucratic approach in having foreign graduates vacate the UK before applying to work in the UK is likely to impact the nation’s economy and risks the possibility of a potential increase in the current skills gap. Presently, the UK Government’s approved Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List for 2015 contains over 30 professions, including roles such as engineers, physical scientists and medical practitioners. If the skill gap were to increase the UK could see a slowdown in industry specific economic growth as companies struggle to recruit talented graduates.

One industry that is trying to cut down on the progressively growing skills shortage is the Games and Animation Industry. Industry professionals are starting up new courses in the UK in order to give a broader expertise in technical and vocational skills which will provide students with enough industry knowledge to set up freelance gaming and animation businesses particularly around the art of 3D modelling.

In terms of basis economics, if an industry in the UK was to be affected by a skills shortage for a particular role it could force employers to inflate the salary in order to attract new talent. One impact of pay inflation would see young graduates with limited experience having to compete against more experienced candidates who have been attracted to the role because of the high salary band. Such an effect would mean that young graduates with limited experience may find themselves having to look abroad for roles meaning that a generation of workers could be lost. Businesses that are affected by a skills shortage will find it difficult to recruit and staff teams for projects; such a difficulty could geopardise a company’s ability to expand and grow quickly. Additionally, UK-based graduate schemes might be overlooked as graduates find it simpler to travel to their home nation to find full time work, rather than exit the UK and have to re-apply to re-enter.

Countries such as Australia, Germany and Canada are offering graduates a ‘grace period’ after graduation to secure a full time role or work experience. The UK could see prospective students looking to study in more graduate-friendly nations in order to better their chances of securing a full time role and visa after graduation.

In recent months it is becoming more documented how international students who are studying in the UK and wish to carry on living here are taking more drastic and innovative approaches in attracting job offers and attention from employers. One approach that has seen numerous success stories is students standing outside some of London’s busiest tube stations at peak hours with CVs in-hand to distribute to anyone passing by.

With such a talent crop for the UK’s work force being made up of international UK graduates, one would only think that the UK Government would be trying everything possible to hold on to the best and brightest graduates.

Impact in figures

The impact of the Government changes to the Tier 4 student visa route has been evidenced in Home Office statistics with the number of study-related visas (excluding student visitors) granted over the last 12 months (year ending June 2015) seeing a 1% fall, such a figure may not seem much but it is the equivalent of 1,470 visas.

Another key figure from the Home Office statistics calculated that the top 5 nationalities studying in the UK totalled to over half (53%) of all Study Visas granted in the in the year ending June 2015; of this the largest pool of applicants came from China (68,294). As for the number of study visas granted (excluding student visitors) figures state that Chinese and Malaysian nationals are on the increase, while the number for Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani nationals coming to study on the UK have decreased. Further, statistics based on study-related grants of extensions show that such applications had fallen by over a quarter (-27% or -26,183) in the year ending June 2015.

Visa extension applications from different levels of the UK education system have also seen a decrease, with the Home Office reporting that there has been a 24,225 (-28%) drop in applications by main applicants applying to extend. Such applications were seen to fall by 9% (-5,291) at universities, 18% (-306) at Independent Schools and 27% (-225) at English Language Schools.

It remains to be seen how all changes to the Tier 4 student visa category will impact the economy both in terms of the education sector in particular and the rest of industry in general.