Indian and other foreign students in the UK will be allowed to stay on and work for two years after graduation under Boris Johnson’s progressive policy of opening the country “to the brightest and the best from across the globe”.
This is one reason why Indians in Britain, who backed Boris when he was mayor of London for two four-year terms, want him to get through his current Brexit troubles and establish himself as Prime Minister.
In many ways he is seen as instinctively liberal — much more than his predecessor Theresa May — and also much more pro-Indian.
Overseas students were allowed to work for two years after they had completed their studies until May cut the period to only four months in 2012 when she was home secretary. She was obsessed with reducing migration to “tens of thousands” and even included students in the overall immigration statistics.
Boris, who never agreed with May’s policy on students, has reversed it at a stroke.
The present pool of Indian students in the UK finishing their courses this year will not benefit from the change in rules, which will apply from the academic term starting next year.
Shreya Swamy, who has been studying for a master’s degree at the University for the Creative Arts, in Kent and Surrey, told the BBC that the proposals were “a great step forward” but it is “a sad day” for her as they had come too late to help students already in the UK.
The UK has 450,000 foreign students, two-thirds from outside the EU.
In India, British high commissioner Dominic Asquith, who has been harangued for years on student visas and admissions, said: “This is fantastic news for Indian students, who will now be able to spend more time in the UK after completing their degree, allowing them to gain further skills and experience.
“I’m delighted that the numbers of Indian students coming to study in the UK are constantly increasing, having doubled over the last three years. Last year alone we saw a massive 42 per cent increase.”
Of course, the percentages seem high because he is starting from a low base after a sharp decline in Indian student numbers. It may be too late already to stem the Indian brain drain to America — not least because many more scholarships are available in the US — and Australia.
Indian student numbers have increased over the past three years, according to the high commission, reaching almost 22,000 in the year ending June 2019.
“Boris Johnson has come to a sensible decision which is a win-win for both the UK and India,” said the peer and economist, Meghnad Desai.
“This decision has rightly removed the onerous constraints on Indian students studying in the UK.”
Tory peer Jitesh Gadhia commented: “Indian visitors, students and workers bring huge benefits to the UK economy through their purchasing power, academic contributions and skill sets, enriching our country and supporting our position as one of the most open and welcoming countries in the world.
“In recent times, the United States has provided a big draw for Indian students, but I would remind them that the UK has four of the top 10 universities in the world. I would urge all Indian students to re-evaluate the UK for their studies, especially now that the visa regime has become more flexible.”
Chancellor of Birmingham University Karan Bilimoria, another peer who has fought for the change, said: “It has been a long and sustained effort to have it reinstated and will make a huge difference, enabling the UK to attract international students from around the world. Only recently it was revealed that New Zealand has more Indian students than the UK.”
Boris’s younger brother Jo, who left his government as universities minister because of a family fallout over Brexit, applauded the British Prime Minister: “Big news — Home Secretary accepts my new clause in Immigration Bill lifting post study restrictions on foreign students! Real win for UK soft power. Many thanks to Conservative colleagues and the MPs who backed it.”