International students will be able to stay in the UK for two years after graduating, to find work, under new proposals announced by the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson said the changes, due to come into effect for those starting courses next year, would help those studying in Britain to begin their careers in the UK.
International students who have successfully completed a course in any subject at an institution with a track record in upholding immigration checks will be able to benefit from the measures.
They will apply to students who start courses in 2020/21 at undergraduate level or above.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the change would "mean talented international students... can study in the UK and then gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers.
“It demonstrates our global outlook and will ensure that we continue to attract the best and brightest.”
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said the announcement was “very positive news”.
“Evidence shows that international students bring significant positive social outcomes to the UK as well as £26 billion in economic contributions, but for too long the lack of post-study work opportunities in the UK has put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting those students.
“The introduction of a two-year post-study work visa is something Universities UK has long campaigned for and we strongly welcome this policy change, which will put us back where we belong as a first choice study destination.
“Not only will a wide range of employers now have access to talented graduates from around the world, these students hold lifelong links.”
However Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, a think-tank which argues for increased restrictions on immigration, said it was an “unwise” and “retrograde” step which would “likely lead to foreign graduates staying on to stack shelves, as happened before”.
“Our universities are attracting a record number of overseas students so there is no need to devalue a study visa by turning it into a backdoor route for working here.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “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.
“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.”
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom explained the new policy, saying it the UK's approach is "to be open to the brightest and the best".
She said often students in their final year are so busy studying that they don't have enough time to apply for jobs until after their course has finished,
The new policy, she says, allows them time to apply for roles with a view to staying in the UK and contributing past the two year mark.
The Government's announcement coincides with the launch of the world’s largest genetics project, the £200 million whole genome sequencing project in the UK Biobank, which aims to transform genetic research.
Mr Johnson said: “Britain has a proud history of putting itself at the heart of international collaboration and discovery.
“Over sixty years ago, we saw the discovery of DNA in Cambridge by a team of international researchers and today we are going even further.
“Now we are bringing together experts from around the globe to work in the UK on the world’s largest genetics research project, set to help us better treat life-threatening illnesses and ultimately save lives.
“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.
“That’s why we’re unveiling a new route for international students to unlock their potential and start their careers in the UK.”