UK Government white paper on post-Brexit immigration system

20 December 2018

On Wednesday 19 December, the Government published its long-awaited white paper on how it intends the UK's immigration system to look once the UK has left the EU. Download and view 'The UK's future skills-based immigration system'.

It is important to remember that, at this stage, these are proposals-only. No new Rules have been laid yet. In paragraph 15.4, the paper states:

"We [...] intend to launch an extensive 12-month programme of engagement with sectors across the UK. This will include discussions with private, public and voluntary sector employers, as well as industry representatives".

Nevertheless, the paper proposes wide-ranging changes to all aspects of immigration, including work-related routes, and includes various proposals which would affect, among others, students wishing to transfer into work-related routes. Much of the relevant detail about this can be found on pages 15-18 and 30-31 of the report.

Based on our initial reading, the following observations specifically cover the proposed student/study immigration rules:

  • There will be a single system for international students who come to the UK to study, which is essentially the current immigration system for non-EEA nationals. The paper says:

"We do not propose to lower standards in the study route, which is working well after the reforms which stopped the unacceptably high levels of immigration abuse encountered a decade ago by non-genuine students. Individuals must demonstrate that they are genuine student, meet English language and maintenance requirements and have a proven academic track record.

"We will maintain rules that to undertake further study a student must demonstrate academic progress. It must be a route to allow access to our world leading institutions, not a back-door route to work or settlement".

  • EEA students coming for short-term study will need to come under the short-term student route (and be treated as non-visa nationals for these purposes). The paper says that those wishing to come for more than six months and under 12 for an English language course will need to get a visa i.e. all such students will need entry clearance (as presently). Currently the English language course must be for a maximum of 11 months. In the future, once introduced, non-visa national short-term students will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation to enter the UK.
  • All students studying at postgraduate level or undergraduate level at an institution with degree-awarding powers will get six months leave at the end of their study in which to ‘gain work experience or look for a skilled job in the UK’.
  • The government has also indicated changes to the post-PhD work offer, and to Tier 2 eligibility, stating on page 31 that it accepts the following MAC recommendations:
    • "The 12 months leave to remain after PhD completion [should] be incorporated into the original visa duration, subject to meeting progress requirements and course completion, for eligibility to remain in the UK after course end date. This would replace the existing Doctoral Extension scheme that allows the same rights, but has to be applied for with associated visa costs."; and
    • "Previous Tier 4 students, who passed their Level 6 (or above) qualification in the UK, should be entitled to a two-year period during which they can apply out-of-country for a Tier 2 visa, under the same rules as current in country Tier 4 to Tier 2 switches."
  • EEA nationals on Erasmus or similar programmes will be able to study in the UK without needing ‘to go through the full student visa’.

The paper does not discuss entitlement to student finance ('Student Support'), and 'home' fees status, after the implementation period, for those outside the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement. The paper says "this is a matter for the UK Government, Devolved Administrations, and Parliament, to consider in due course".


UPDATED 9 January 2019: to provide clarity on the proposals regarding post-PhD, and Tier 2, immigration; and to indicate some relevant pages in the white paper.