Boris Johnson rips up Theresa May's student visa curbs in bid to attract 'brightest and best'
International students will be able to stay in the UK for two years after graduating to look for a job, ministers have announced, in a reversal of changes put in place by Theresa May.
Under rules drawn up by the-then Home Secretary in 2012, overseas students studying in the UK are currently able to stay in the country for just four months after completing a degree in order to try and find work.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to help students "unlock their potential" as he unveiled changes to the UK's visa system which will come into force next year.
The move goes further than the latest immigration white paper from the Home Office, which suggested extending the limit to six months for those with bachelor's or master's degrees.
Mr Johnson announced the plan alongside the launch of a £200m genetics project, as he talked up the UK's record in researching DNA.
"Breakthroughs of this kind wouldn't be possible without being open to the brightest and the best from across the globe to study and work in the UK," he said.
"That's why we're unveiling a new route for international students to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK."
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "The important contribution international students make to our country and universities is both cultural and economic. Their presence benefits Britain, which is why we’ve increased the period of time these students can remain in the UK after their studies.
"Our universities thrive on being open global institutions. Introducing the graduate route ensures our prestigious higher education sector will continue to attract the best talent from around the world to global Britain."
The changes will apply to students who begin studying at undergraduate level or above from next year, with no restrictions on the types of work students will have to seek and no cap on numbers.
Mrs May argued in 2015 that some international students were using education as a "back door to a British visa".
But Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The new Graduate Route will mean talented international students, whether in science and maths or technology and engineering, can study in the UK and then gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers."
Labour's Diane Abbott seized on the u-turn, however, and accused the Government of "foolishness" in its wider immigration policies.
"Labour has always said graduates should be able to work here after their studies because it enables them to contribute to our economy, our universities and to research, and helps us to attract the brightest and best from around the world," the Shadow Home Secretary said.
She added: "It is a great pity that ministers have previously supported measures that did the opposite.
"But it also highlights the foolishness of government plans to place a salary limit on work visas at £30,000. Many of the graduates doing fantastic medical and other research earn less than that. Government policy will prevent us from attracting them to live and work here.”
The SNP's Stuart McDonald said: "This long overdue move underlines the absurdity of this shambolic Tory government, and their harmful and erratic hostile environment policies."