The post-study work visa: How Covid-19 is affecting options to stay for international student grads

When the UK got rid of the post-study work visa in 2012, universities in Australia and Canada were delighted.

They held the unique selling point that international students could complete a bachelor’s level degree or higher and be able to remain for one to three years to work full-time.

This meant that the initial investment in an education went even further; not only could they upskill themselves with a degree, but they could also add valuable international work experience to their resumes.

After that, they could then look into applying for a skilled work visa or in some cases, apply for permanent residency.

But as of last year, the UK announced it was bringing back its 2-year post-study work scheme, upping its game in the student recruitment world in order to compete for the top academic talent.

“We are educating some of the world’s best students,” said Jonny Hill, Regional Manager for North America at Ulster University in Northern Ireland.

“It makes sense to offer them the opportunity to work in industry in the UK before they return to their home countries.”

According to the Times Higher Education, there was a 40 percent drop in student enrolments from India alone when the scheme was cancelled eight years ago.

And then there was Covid

That was all fine and well until the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and borders were shut, raising questions about eligibility for this graduate visa route.

For most countries, students would have to have studied their programs onshore and in person in order to qualify in normal times.

For example, in Australia, students must complete at least a 2-year program to get the visa, so students doing a 1-year master’s program—though succinct and good value for money—would have to leave the country upon completion or come up with another option to stay.

But with international students not being able to travel to Australia since March, there was much concern over what this would mean for current students who had returned home as well as for those about to commence.

As of last month, the Department of Home Affairs in Australia declared that for current and new student visa holders, online study undertaken in another country due to Covid-19 will count toward the study requirement (though they are still determining what the maximum amount of time for this will be).

But what about new students who hadn’t gotten their student visas yet?

These students seem to be out of luck at the moment; the current regulations state that student visa dates will not be backdated, and this online study won’t count, which is unfortunate.

In the meantime, the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) is currently lobbying with the Department to change this.

What about other countries?

Canada—which has one of the most generous post-study work schemes, offering a 3-year visa to graduates—announced that students starting this Fall will be able to count online study toward their post-study work visa requirement.

In Ireland, all students will still be eligible for the stay-back option.

And according to the UK Home Office, “if students are required to either continue their current studies or commence a new course by distance or blended learning due to Covid-19, they will still be eligible to switch into the Graduate route on a concessionary basis if they spent some time studying outside the UK.”

It does also mention that students starting studies at UK universities in Fall 2020 must travel to the UK by April 6, 2021, in order to be eligible, but it’s unknown as to whether this date will be extended if the public health crisis doesn’t improve.