Post-Brexit: A Promising time for Asian Students and Work-Force

Global News and Perspectives

The United Kingdom’s (UK) departure from the European Union (EU) has had far-reaching and intrusive effects on various sectors. However, the impact of Brexit, as it is popularly known, has been felt differently among students and the workforce from different countries.

On June 23, 2016, the Brexit referendum took place. The EU nationals, who enjoyed free movement and possessed the right to live and work freely in the UK, came to an end. Though the rule was to be applied in the next few years, the immediate effect of Brexit led to the renegotiation of various agreements between the UK and European countries. Most importantly, following Brexit adjustment in UK’s immigration rules was made, which majorly impacted the economy, particularly the education sector, the job market as well as trade and industry. While not all the changes were favourable for citizens of EU member countries, many new developments resulted in progressive changes for non-EU citizens, especially Asians. Nearly six years after the Brexit referendum, it seems an opportune time to assess the impact of Brexit on non- EU member countries, as well as to understand the future implications of the UK’s withdrawal.

Brexit for students

Estimates show that every year around 250,000 to 300,000 students arrive in the UK to pursue higher education. European students, who study or were hoping to study in the UK were predominantly affected by Brexit. Following the Brexit declaration, in April 2017 the government announced that the EU students would continue to be treated as home students. Those who aspired to study in UK universities would be eligible to apply for loans and grants as domestic students. Moreover, the fees would also remain the same as before. However, while there were no changes for academic years 2018-19 and 2019-20, at the end of 2020-21 the EU students would no longer receive special privileges. Consequently, they would not qualify for tuition fee support and would cease to be treated as domestic students. Currently, the EU students are treated the same as all international students. For Asians and students from other parts of the world, however, Brexit opened more opportunities. Post-Brexit Immigration Rules introduced the ‘Graduate Route’, which allows all students who graduate from UK universities two or three years of unsponsored stay in the UK after completing their bachelor’s or Ph.D. degrees.

Similar to the post-study work visa that the UK offered before 2012, the ‘Graduate Route’ is helping students gain international experience by working in the UK after their studies. Moreover, it is also enabling students to easily transition from Graduate Route visas to skilled worker visas. This encouraging change is already observable in statistics, as the popularity of UK universities is particularly growing in Asian counties like China and India. The UK Home Office data shows that a total of 90,669 Indians were issued student visas for the academic year 2020-21. From 2019-20, the figure increased by 45,677, showing a significant rise within one year in student visas granted to Indians.

Job market and trade

Post-Brexit, the UK witnessed shortages in the workforce from time to time. The employment growth particularly slowed down in 2019 as an aftermath of Brexit. However, according to data from agencies like the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the labour market remains promising and there are a number of open vacancies. Interestingly, to retain and encourage talent from all over the world to work in the UK, 59% of private-sector employers have raised salaries to offset their recruitment difficulties. Many of the beneficiaries of the increase in salaries are Asians who work and live in the UK. Besides, this surge in salaries has the potential of attracting the best talent of the world to the UK. The post-Brexit situation is also making companies invest in training of their employees, additionally, companies are seeking to recruit from different ethnic and regional backgrounds as EU workers no longer enjoy special privileges. This has led to more employment of domestic and non-EU workers in the UK. In the coming year, it is highly likely that the workforce in the UK would be more diverse, as compared to the pre-Brexit levels.

In addition, UK employers have remained optimistic about the Graduate Route visas. These visas have opened new resources for employers as they can now employ highly skilled workers trained in the UK more easily and fill in the already existing gaps, especially in the fields of engineering, STEM subjects, and Information Technology (IT). Organizations are also being encouraged to hire a diverse workforce which is expected to have a positive impact on innovation and creativity with the assimilation of different perspectives. Moreover, international graduates are also understood to be a means to develop links for the UK with important trading partners, like the US, China, and India.

Nevertheless, trade is expected to be negatively hit by Brexit, at least in the short run. The transition period permitted the trade between the UK and the EU to remain unaffected until January 1, 2021. UK goods exports to the EU are believed to have fallen to more than 15 percent since Brexit. According to the Centre for European Reform, since the end of the transition period, the UK goods trade has reduced by 15.8 percent as of August 2021. Owing to the disturbances, delayed deliveries, higher prices have been widely prevalent. Moreover, gas stations and supermarkets have periodically remained empty. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2021 one in six adults in Great Britain experienced shortages of food items. In October 2021, shortages sparked a fuel crisis, affecting 37% of the population.

Consequently, the need to reorganise supply chains has been felt across the country as the changed tariffs, and higher trade barriers have caused disruptions. Nevertheless, this has opened opportunities for the rest of the world, as countries in Europe are receiving no special exemptions now. Renewed interest to trade with the UK is noticeable in countries like India and China, while as a result of Brexit the UK is also considering diversifying its supply chains and workforce.

The exact and long-term impact of Brexit still remains to be studied and will probably take years to be correctly assessed. All in all, it can be said that Brexit has proved to be a mixed bag– with the end of privileges for Europe and opening of opportunities for non-EU countries.

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