Strong debate continues about the effects of the closure in April of this year of the Tier 1 (Post-study work) category of the Points Based System. This route allowed non-EEA graduates to work in the UK for up to two years following graduation, provided a bridge to longer term skilled work in the UK, and enabled the UK to retain the most international graduates, with the intention of making the UK a more attractive destination for international students. For the calendar year ending December 2011, 49,654 Tier 1 (Post-study work) visas were granted.

Last month, the Higher Education Commission called for an urgent policy review on post-graduate students, which it says are key to the UK’s continued success in an increasingly competitive and globalised world. The Russell Group has warned that tougher visa rules are leading to a drop in international student applications. In a survey earlier this year, over three quarters of international students surveyed by the National Union of Students said that the Tier 1 (Post-study work) visa was a very important factor in deciding to study in the UK.

Whilst the UK has abolished Tier 1 (Post-study work), Australia is relaxing its post-study work arrangements by introducing new conditions similar to Tier 1 (Post-study work). Other developed countries, including the USA, Germany, France and Canada have immigration routes comparable with the former Tier 1 (Post-study work) route in the UK.

So what are the current options for non-EEA graduates who wish to work in the UK following the conclusion of their studies?

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) - this category, which opened on 6 April 2012, allows graduates who have been identified by HEIs as having developed world class innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills, to extend their stay in the UK to develop a business. 1,000 places are available each year. This will be an option for only a very small number of international graduates.

Tier 2 (General) – graduates will be able to take up skilled jobs with employers who are licensed by the UKBA to employ non-EEA-workers. However, it has been estimated that 49% of international students would not qualify to switch into Tier 2 (General) because of the minimum occupational skill level required. For individuals switching from Tier 4 (General) and other student categories into Tier 2 (General), there is no requirement for the employer to undertake the resident labour market test.

Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) – graduates can switch into this Tier in order to remain in the UK for up to 24 months for professional training or work experience. This is, however, likely to be of interest to a relatively small number of graduates and time spent in the UK on a Tier 5 visa will not count towards settlement.

There are, therefore, visa options for non-EEA graduates. These options are, however, likely to be less attractive than the recently abolished Tier 1 (Post-study work) route. The full impact of these changes on the finances of HEIs and the overall UK economy remains to be seen.