How will Brexit affect the UK’s international student community?

“The changing landscape of immigration laws could mean that youngsters need to choose their degree more wisely in order to study abroad”

Since Brexit negotiations began, UCAS has reported a surprising surge of European and international students applying to study in the UK – with figures exceeding the 100,000 mark for the first time. Many have speculated that the increase in applicants is due to a fear growing among international students: that access to further education in the UK will be limited once freedom of movement has ended come 29 March 2019.

What we know:

There is no abrupt close-down for students wishing to study in the UK in the immediate future: students starting in the academic year 2018/19 can continue undisturbed since they are secured under ‘transitional protection’.

These students are eligible for full financial support from the Student Loans Company (SLC) and Erasmus+, even if the UK leaves the EU during their course. They also receive ‘home fee’ status, meaning they pay the same tuition fee as UK residents (as opposed to international students who fork out between £15,000 to £25,000 per year).

“These short-term promises might provide at least some comfort for students in the meantime, but new immigration laws after 2019 – and what this means for students – still remain shrouded in mystery”

Possible Outcomes:

Since the UK is committed to protecting a ‘deep and special relationship’ with the EU, and the EU desires continued access to the UK’s prestigious education sector, it is most likely that an agreement will be made that benefits all students.

Scotland has already made the first move in extending their commitment to foreign students by guaranteeing successful EU applicants ‘home fee status’ in the academic year 2019/20, which is promising for the rest of the country to follow suit.


Another speculation is that the Erasmus+ Programme will come to an end, burying with it it’s generous funding scheme that has allowed over 3 million students access to the continent’s best universities since it began in 1987. However, Theresa May has assured that the scheme will continue to at least 2020, with the possibility of extension or remodel. Even after Brexit, the UK could hold membership to Erasmus+ similar to the other non-EU members: Iceland, Norway, Turkey, Liechtenstein, and Macedonia.

An in-demand degree:

The changing landscape of immigration laws could mean that youngsters need to choose their degree more wisely in order to study abroad. An ‘in-demand degree’ refers to one that qualifies the students to perform a job on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List.

“Roles on this list vary from engineers and IT specialists to ballet dancers and musicians”

Choosing an in-demand degree is beneficial for foreign applicants as they face little competition from UK students and are also more likely to secure a job in the UK after graduation under a Tier 2 (General) Work Visa.

Tier 4 Student Visa

In a ‘hard Brexit’ scenario, EU students could end up in the same situation as international applicants: coughing up amplified tuition fees and requiring a UK Student Visa. Even if the UK replicates the EU’s visa-alternative ‘ETIAS’ that is set to be finalised by 2020, the system only permits travellers a short stay of up to 90 days, meaning this would only support students who are studying for 3 months or less.

As it currently stands, obtaining a UK Student Visa is only necessary for non-EU applicants. To apply for a Tier 4 Student Visa you must:

  • Be studying for more than 6 months (anything less will require a Student Visitor Visa)
  • Have been offered a place in a UK university that holds a Tier 4 Sponsor Licence
  • Have enough money to fund yourself and your course
  • Pay the ‘Immigration Healthcare Surcharge’ (IHS) to have access to the UK’s NHS
  • Be aware that visa applications can be a lengthy process, so apply early and with plenty of time

Students’ big study abroad plans or graduate job dreams should not be marred by visa application worries. They should be advised to regularly check the shortage occupation list as well as changing immigration laws.

Olivia Bridge is a content writer and correspondent from the Immigration Advice Service, a specialist immigration law firm that assists international students with working and settling in the UK.