Got the degree? Now get a job in four months – or face going back home.
That’s been the challenge for international students studying at UK universities, ever since Theresa May introduced the rule as home secretary in 2012.
But from next year, graduates from inside and outside the EU will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years – instead of just four months – to look for work after finishing their degree.
The move has been welcomed by universities and Labour but criticised as a “retrograde” step by campaign group Migration Watch.
However, for recent graduates there’s frustration that they will miss out on the opportunity.
‘I’m going home with a very expensive piece of paper’
Shreya Swamy, who moved to the UK from India last year, has just finished studying for a master’s degree in illustration at the University for the Creative Arts.
She considers the government’s move “a great step forward” but says it does nothing to help students who are currently studying here or those starting this year.
“I have personally struggled so much with the four-month post-study visa rule,” she says.
“The jobs available are close to nil for fresh international graduates because of lack of experience – plus just four months’ availability.
“I have been through hell and back trying to figure out my career plan these past few months because it seems practically impossible to have one in the UK.”
She adds: “I feel really helpless, and almost regret coming here to study because I’m going to just end up going back home with a very expensive piece of paper.
“Today is a really sad day for me – there just has to be a way to help those already studying here or joining this year.”
‘It’s do or die – find a job or go back home’
Allison Strang, from the US, has been in the UK for two-and-a-half years studying for a degree in fashion journalism at the University for the Creative Arts in Surrey.
She’s due to graduate next June so will have just four months from then to get a job.
“I feel so stressed and under pressure. It’s do or die – find a job or go back home,” she says.
Home is Texas where she wouldn’t be able to find the type of work she’s after so it would mean moving to New York.
But, she says, she loves London and wants to stay so she’ll start applying for jobs early next year.
“Having two years to find a fitting job in this country would be unbelievably helpful.
“It would give me a better opportunity to get into the career I want to get in to.
“I’m hoping the proposal broadens to extend opportunities to me and others who have spent the past few years bringing our creativity, knowledge and culture to the UK.”
‘I’m happy it’s happening’
Ruth Ohadiugha, from Nigeria, is currently studying for a master’s degree in security, intelligence and diplomacy at the University of Buckingham.
With her course due to end in December, she is another one who will miss out on the longer two-year window to look for work.
However, she’s staying philosophical. “I’m happy it’s happening,” she says.
“For those of us finishing at the end of this year, it’s a real struggle for us, but it’s good knowing that other students are going to be the beneficiaries.”
Next month, she plans to start applying for placements. “I’m going to get out there, make applications and have in mind that if I get a placement, that’s good. If not, it’s not the end of the world. I can go back home and work there.”
Had she had two years rather than four months to find work, Ruth says she would not have changed her plans, but would have appreciated more time to apply for positions and gain experience in her field.
‘It’s unfair this decision wasn’t made long ago’
Lucia Vargas Machuca has been struggling to find a job since finishing her master’s degree in fashion and brand management.
For the moment, she has an internship at London Fashion Week, but her visa to stay in the UK expires in less than a month’s time.
“I feel happy for future students but can’t help but feel it’s so unfair that this decision wasn’t made long ago,” she says.
“I’ve been searching for a job but no luck. Every time I spoke to people in HR, I was told it was difficult because of Brexit. It’s been overwhelming.
“People like me are willing to learn and contribute to the economy. I want to use the experience I’ve gained here in the UK. It’s a win-win for both sides,” says Lucia, who also has a business management degree specialising in international trade.
“If I go back to Peru, it will be a struggle to get a job,” she says.