Post study work visa options: an international comparative review

This report presents the main findings of a literature review examining how the UK’s post-study work offer compares with those of its key competitor countries.

Country overview

Policies on international migration are subject to regular change, depending on a country’s economic, political and social needs at a given point in time. The ‘traditional immigration countries’ – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – are unique in that immigration was essential for their founding and development, and they have continued to encourage immigration for permanent settlement on a significant scale. In European countries, in contrast, mass immigration occurred only when they were already economically developed nations and resulted from their colonial history (e.g. the UK, France and the Netherlands) and/or active recruitment of workers (e.g. Germany, Sweden), especially after the Second World War. Moreover, some European countries only recently transformed from emigration to immigration countries (e.g. Ireland).[60] Therefore, different histories and different needs have shaped immigration policies in these countries over the centuries. Nevertheless, with the beginning of the 21st century the ‘global race for talent’ has become a clear factor in forming immigration policies in highly-developed countries worldwide; since the mid-2000s, all the countries under comparison in this review have developed new or reviewed existing policies aimed at highly skilled migrants and international students, including those related to post-study work. In this section we shall analyse developments related to post-study work options in particular. We shall first look at trends and national policies in the traditional immigration countries. Then we shall move to European countries and consider supranational EU-level policies as well as national-level policies in the EU states under comparison. 

Traditional immigration countries

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States are referred to as ‘traditional immigration countries’ as in their case nation-building and immigration were tied together from the very beginning of their existence as nation states. Therefore, these countries have had explicit immigration policies for centuries. Nevertheless, there are considerable differences between their immigration systems: while Australia, Canada and New Zealand all adopted points-based immigration systems in the second half of the 20th century, the US continues to operate a highly complex visa-based system. 

Australia, Canada and New Zealand have a similar history of immigration and immigration policy. Historically, in all three countries entry was based on preferred source countries consisting mainly of the UK, Western Europe and North America. Over time, they moved away from selection based on nationality and ethnicity to human capital and labour market characteristics as key criteria for selection.[61] This change was reflected in the points-based systems (PBS) they adopted: Canada was the first to move to a points-based system (in 1967), followed by Australia (1989), and New Zealand (1991). Over the last decades, all three countries have operated large permanent migration programmes sharing two priority goals: nation-building and economic growth. In terms of selection policy, their primary focus is on skills, accounting for two-thirds of permanent intakes. Moreover, in the past two decades each country has expanded quotas, diversified source countries and fields, and dramatically increased temporary labour flows (driven by state and employer sponsorship). They have also cultivated ‘two-step migration’, facilitating category-switching by temporarily employed workers, and the retention of former international students. In Australia, 66% of Indian and 38% of Chinese students category-switched to become permanent skilled migrants by 2005. In New Zealand, a study-to-work followed by a work-to-residence pathway has existed for more than a decade, retaining a third of all international students. Canada launched a strategy designed to double the number of international enrolments within ten years (to 450,000) in 2013, after tripling retention.[62] By 2014, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand strategies, informed by national and international research evidence, had largely converged. All three countries aim to attract ‘the brightest and the best’ defined as skilled migrants capable of integrating into the labour market early, and bringing beneficial fiscal outcomes.[63] 

The US does not operate a points-based system but a much more complex visa system with different entry routes for temporary and permanent migration: through family reunification, family sponsorship, an employment-based route, the refugee and asylum seeker route or through the Diversity Visa Programme. Contrary to policies of the other traditional immigration countries, the US immigration policy has long stressed family reunification over labour market skills – with the exception of the H-1B temporary visas for highly skilled workers (Bauer et al. 2000: 6). Following an increase in the annual cap on H1-B visa numbers in 2001, the United States became the main attractor of high-skilled migrants among OECD countries (OECD 2008). The US also aims to attract and retain students of US universities through the (recently expanded) Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme. Temporary visas have become an important part of the current high-skilled workforce in the US, and in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – in particular. These developments have largely taken place under the influence of certain interest groups, advocates, and lobbyists representing employers in high-skilled sectors.[64]

While comparative studies have often contrasted the supply-driven points-based systems of Canada and Australia to the demand-driven policies of the US, it has been argued that this categorisation is becoming obsolete as the respective governments are continually changing policies and effectively moving towards other models.[65] The points-based systems of Canada and Australia started diverging in the mid-1990s as the countries adopted different selection criteria. Canada adopted a human capital model with a points-based system emphasising education and language while Australia adopted a neo-corporatist model with a points-based system focusing on occupations in demand, as determined by industry in cooperation with workforce experts and representatives. However, the Canadian government stopped processing the vast majority of applications selected by its human capital-weighted points-based system in favour of applicants with skills on rather narrow occupational lists, as is the case in Australia. Meanwhile, the Australian government has shifted its skilled migration programme to favour employer-sponsored permanent immigrants and temporary migrant workers, like the US demand-driven model. The US model currently allows employers to select highly skilled migrants by means of sponsorship for temporary visas and permanent residence yet this might change as introducing a points-based system which would prioritise highly skilled migrants has recently been subject of parliamentary discussion.[66]

The 2000s have brought about distinct changes in migration policies of the respective traditional immigration countries. These were partly driven by the global competition for talent with each of the countries reviewing its post-study work policies. We shall discuss these in detail in the country overview sections below. 


Policy context

Australia needs to grow its population to address issues of an ageing population and shrinking of the workforce. Immigration certainly impacts on Australia’s population to a greater degree than is the case for most Western nations. Among OECD countries, only Switzerland and Luxembourg have a higher percentage of foreign-born people than Australia with 28% of the Australian population being born overseas. The proportion of Australians born overseas is now at the highest point in 120 years. Indeed, since 2005-2006, migration has been the main driver of Australia’s population growth, contributing approximately 60% to total growth. The spatial distribution of new migrants is also a key issue for Australia’s immigration policy as immigrants are more likely to live in large cities than smaller cities and regions where population challenges are most pronounced. 

Younger migrants have generally been favoured in Australia’s immigration policy, especially over the last 30 years. Furthermore, Australia has long focused on attracting high-skilled migrants and has the world’s largest skilled migration programme.[67] Apart from a national-level scheme, Australia also operates the Regional Skilled Migration Scheme which allows employers in given regions and low population growth areas to fill skilled positions they are unable to fill from the local workforce. It was the second most popular destination of OECD-born high-skilled expatriates in 2001 and the third OECD nation in terms of a high-skilled immigrant population.[68] Over the last two decades, Australia introduced a number of changes to policies related to highly skilled migration to ensure that migrants to the country meet the specific needs of the economy and fill gaps in the labour market where they currently exist.[69] One of these changes has been the introduction in 2007 of the Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485), aimed at retaining international graduates with relevant skills gained from local higher education institutions.[70] In 2008, Australia accounted for 11% of the global market of international students[71] and became the third OECD nation with the largest high-skilled immigration population.[72] 

International students in Australia

Australia had 336,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 17% of all student enrolments in that year.[73] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: China (114,006); India (44,775); Nepal (15,211); Malaysia (14,721); Vietnam (13,949).[74] 

Temporary Graduate Visa Scheme (subclass 485) - overview

The Temporary Graduate Visa Scheme (subclass 485) was introduced in September 2007 to address the need to attract and retain highly skilled individuals. The scheme initially granted the right to work in Australia for 18 months post-graduation to graduates of selected courses, both vocational and university degree courses. Since then a number of changes were introduced, essentially aimed at increasing the attractiveness of the offer to graduates of university degree courses. In 2013, the post-study work path was introduced into the 485 subclass: it granted longer and less restrictive work rights to university graduates in particular (rather than those in vocational training).[75] The object of this policy change was attracting more ‘higher quality’ migrants on the one hand, and discouraging the ‘overproduction’ of graduates of vocational courses on the other.

Currently, the Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485 - Post-Study Work Stream) can be granted to graduates of recognised Australian HE institutions for 2-4 years, depending on the level of degree obtained.  


Graduates of registered courses of at least 2 years length who: 

  • are under the age of 50; 
  • hold an eligible student visa (granted on or after 5 November 2011); 
  • fulfil the proficiency in English requirement; 
  • have valid health insurance cover for the length of stay; 
  • meet the 'good character' requirement.

Graduates need to apply for the visa within 6 months of the official date of course completion. The visa allows them to bring over family members: their spouse or partner and dependent children.

Length of programme   

The Post-Study Work Visa is granted for 2-4 years depending on the level of qualification received by the applicant. The higher the level of qualification, the longer the length of the visa, namely:

  • bachelor degree (including honours) – 2 years; 
  • master’s by coursework – 2 years; 
  • master’s by research – 3 years; 
  • doctoral degree - 4 years. 

The Post-Study Work Visa cannot be extended.

Evaluation of programme and available evidence

The programme has been successful in terms of achieving the objective of attracting and retaining international students in the short-term. However, it has also raised a number of challenges related to the quality of students attracted, oversupply of graduates of certain subjects, the position of international graduates in Australia’s labour market, and their spatial distribution post-study. Also, the sheer growth in numbers of programme participants is currently seen as problematic.

The aim of introducing the Post-Study Work Stream into the Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485) was to increase the attractiveness of Australia's HE sector and the numbers of international university-degree students staying in Australia after graduation. This objective has been achieved with a staggering increase in student numbers and applications for the programme since its introduction. While in 2013/14 a total of 974 Temporary Graduate Visas (subclass 485 - Post-Study Work Stream) were granted to primary applicants,[76] in 2017/18 the respective number was 32,748.[77] This is due to the increasing size of the student visa program and a greater number of students in Australia becoming eligible to meet the requirements for the Post-Study Work stream.[78] In the 2017-18 programme year to 30 June 2018, 24.2% of former student visa holders who were granted another substantive visa moved on to the Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) Visa (this includes both the Graduate Work programme and the Post-Study Work stream).[79] 

While China and India lead in the number of applicants to the programme, the top 5 countries of origin of the programme beneficiaries have changed to some extent since its introduction:

  • in 2013/14 these were: India (341 visa holders); China (151); Malaysia (71); Philippines (58); Pakistan (48);
  • in 2017/18 these were: China (9,441); India (8,443); Nepal (2,877); Pakistan (1,779); Vietnam (1,299).[80]

Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the programme in terms of longer-term retention of former international students is unclear at this point. Statistics show that whilst student visa numbers increased over the last few years and a record 41,387 Temporary Graduate visas (the whole subclass 485) were granted in 2016–17, up 27.6% relative to 2015-16, the number of permanent visas granted to former international students fell by 6.3% in 2016–17 relative to 2015–16.[81] Available analysis of destinations of former Temporary Graduate Subclass 485 Visa holders (note this category includes both the Graduate Work stream and the Post-Study Work stream) shows that in 2017-2018 the majority either moved into work or went back to studying with 51.1% changing to the Skilled visa category (as either Independent or Nominated skilled worker) and 29.6% changing to a Student visa.[82] 

Despite its success in terms of beneficiary numbers, the programme has also brought about a number of challenges. International students are associated with highly skewed enrolment patterns and source countries in Australia (a pattern replicated globally), with international students being ‘overrepresented’ in certain study programmes, such as business studies.[83] In effect, employment outcomes for international students vary greatly by sector and nationality (which is often directly linked to levels of fluency in English).[84] It has been found that the oversupply of graduates in certain fields increases competition for employment and leads to lower employment rates, underemployment, lower wages, and lower job satisfaction for international graduates in comparison to Australian citizens and permanent residents of migrant background.[85] In these terms, the large increase in beneficiaries of the Post-Study Work Visa is seen as problematic. Moreover, it has been argued that the introduction of less restrictive conditions for the Post-Study Work Visa in 2013 makes Australia more attractive to less capable and hence ‘lower quality’ students who would have had no chances of getting a work visa under previous regulations. As further growth in numbers of enrolments is expected in the coming years, concerns around the sustainability of the programme and international graduates displacing native workers have been raised. This topic is currently subject of political debate[86] yet it is too early to evaluate the effects of the policy change on labour market outcomes. 

In terms of available evidence, no datasets tracking changes from the Temporary Graduate Visa Subclass 485 - Post-Study Work Stream to further destinations were found. Publicly available datasets related to the programme record numbers of Temporary Graduate Visas Subclass 485 lodged and granted (for the Graduate Work Stream and the Post-Study Work Stream separately) in given financial years. The dimensions include the financial year and quarter of visa grant, gender, age and citizenship country.[87]

Data on category changes from Temporary Graduate Visa Subclass 485 to other categories is collected and analysed, as follows from reports and analysis found (and presented in this section). However, these changes seem to be tracked at the level of Temporary Graduate Visa Subclass 485 rather than for the two streams constituting it - Graduate Work and Post-Study Work - separately. 


Policy context

By 2005 Canadian fertility rates had fallen to 1.5, fuelling widespread belief that migration represented demographic and economic stability: it was predicted migration could account for all net labour force growth by 2020 in Canada. High intakes of immigrants have been the norm since the late 1980s with the skilled migration category becoming an increasingly important component of these flows. For decades Canada’s selection policy was based on the belief that well-educated migrants were flexible and would easily adapt to the host country’s labour market. Selection was largely based on education level rather than field and place of qualification. This meant admitting substantial numbers of highly educated migrants with limited English or French language ability, non-recognised qualifications, and qualified in fields of low market demand. Such selection, based on human capital criteria, was however found ineffective and brought negative labour market outcomes for these migrants.[88] Subsequently, Canada started reforming its system and moving towards demand-driven selection based on shortage occupation lists. 

It is worth noting that Canada has a highly decentralised immigration system with its provinces carrying out their own immigrant selection and retention policies, especially since the 1990s. The province of Quebec has a unique position within the Canadian immigration system: the Quebec government has been involved in immigration since the 1960s and has exclusive responsibility for immigrant selection, independently of the national quota, with a view to protecting the ‘distinct identity’ of the province. Other provinces operate the Provincial and Territorial Nominee Progamme (PTNP) which allows them to nominate a number of immigrants for admission as part of the national immigration target set by the federal government.[89] 

Canada seeks to maintain a competitive edge in attracting international students and introduced a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) in 2003. The programme was aimed at international graduates from recognized Canadian educational institutions. Enhancements to the programme were made in 2005 and 2008 with a view to encouraging students to stay outside the main metropolitan areas of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver: they were permitted to work for an additional year after graduation (up to a total of two years). In April 2008, further changes were made to the Post-Graduation Work Permit Programme, allowing recent graduates to obtain an open work permit for up to 3 three years (depending on length of their program of study) with no restrictions on location of study or requirement of a job offer. The objective of these initiatives was to promote Canada as a destination of choice, both for study and potential immigration, as well as to help address labour market needs.[90] The most recent change to the programme was made in February 2019, extending the application period for the programme from 90 to 180 days after graduates are issued their final marks.

International students in Canada

Canada had 189,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 12% of all student enrolments in that year.[91] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: China (132,345); India (76,530); South Korea (21,345); France (20,790); United States (12,915).[92] 

Post-Graduation Work Permit – overview

In its effort to retain international students, Canada operates a Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) Programme. The PGWP Programme allows students who have graduated from a recognized Canadian post-secondary institution to gain work experience in Canada. Furthermore, it can provide the necessary job experience required to apply for certain permanent residence streams. A work permit under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program is limited to the duration of the student's study program (minimum of eight months, and up to a maximum of three years). This allows them to work for any Canadian employer in any industry without the requirement of a Canadian job offer at the time of applying. International students can only receive one Post-Graduation Work Permit. 

Since the launch of the PGWP in 2003, Canada has introduced a number of changes with a view to increasing its attractiveness. In contrast to earlier regulations, beneficiaries are no longer required to work in their field of study, nor does their region of employment affect the duration of the permit.[93] The most recent change to the programme was introduced in February 2019, extending the application period for the programme from 90 to 180 days after graduates are issued their final marks. 


The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) is available to graduates of Canadian 'designated learning institutions' at post-secondary level. It allows to search for work flexibly, and graduates have 180 days upon study completion to apply for the PGWP. Spouses and common law partners of PGWP holders may be eligible for an open work visa.

Length of programme  

The length of the PGWP is dependent on, and proportional to, the graduate’s combined length of study, and may last between 8 months and 3 years. Graduates of programmes lasting more than 8 months and less than 2 years may receive a visa valid up to the same length as the length of the study programme; graduates of study programmes of 2 years or more may receive a 3 year visa.  

Graduates can only receive one PGWP and it cannot be extended. 

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

In terms of increasing numbers of international students taking up the PGWP, the programme has achieved considerable success. The number of post-graduation work permits issued rose steadily between 2003 and 2007, and then increased sharply by 64% in 2008:  from 2,808 in 2003 to a staggering 17,810 in 2008. This corresponded to the change in the programme in April 2008 when the requirement of a job offer in the student’s field of study was lifted. Since then the number of programme participants has been on the increase almost every year and reached over 114,000 in 2017.[94]

In terms of the other key programme objectives, that is providing international students with the flexibility to find suitable work and retaining them in Canada longer-term, the evidence is more mixed. 

In 2010, an evaluation report of the International Student Programme reviewing the programme outcomes for the period 2003-2008 noted that international students were increasingly staying to work post-graduation or reside in Canada yet the numbers retained were still relatively small compared to the total numbers of those studying in Canada. In 2008, 11,760 international students transitioned to foreign worker status (compared to 3,454 in 2003); of which, 66% did so with a PGWP. The number of those transitioning to foreign worker status was about 8% of the total stock of international students in post-secondary or other studies. In 2008, 10,357 international students transitioned to permanent resident status (compared to 5,486 in 2003). A little over half of those transitioning (55%) did so as a skilled worker (3,717) or as the spouse or dependant (1,939) of a skilled worker; 55% studied previously at the university level; and 11% studied previously at the trade level. The number of those transitioning to permanent resident status was about 7% of the total stock of international students in post-secondary or other studies.[95]

Nevertheless, while earlier evidence on the impact of PGWP on retention rates has been inconclusive, more recent data indicated that the total numbers of PGWP beneficiaries who have acquired permanent residency of Canada is growing rapidly, with their number more than doubling over the period of 4 years (from 10,215 in 2015 to 24,535 in 2018).[96] 

In terms of labour market outcomes for PGWP beneficiaries, available evidence is again inconclusive. The 2010 programme evaluation report noted that following the 2008 change to the programme (lifting the requirement of a job offer related to the graduates’ field of study) it has been difficult to evidence what kind of work PGWP have been taking up and whether the programme has indeed provided them with valuable work experience.[97] A later internal Citizenship and Immigration Canada report reviewing the years 2008-2014 apparently found that over a third of graduates employed through the PGWP were in low-skilled jobs in the service sector, and had median earnings that were less than half of other recent university and college graduates.[98]

Additionally, other challenges to the programme were pinpointed. The 2010 evaluation report also noted reported fraud and misuse of the International Student Programme. The extent to which this was taking place was however unclear due to a lack of data and consistent reporting. The main concerns raised around abuse of the programme were non-genuine students and questionable educational institutions. It was noted that Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the body issuing the permits, did not have a complete inventory of legitimate educational institutions in Canada, nor the authority to ensure their quality.[99] Furthermore, the internal Citizenship and Immigration Canada report mentioned earlier apparently found that the programme was indeed creating a low-wage workforce, encouraging low-quality postsecondary programmes, and needs to be redesigned.[100]

Canada tracks international students’ pathways and changes to/from particular immigration schemes as well as geographical location. Relevant datasets are published on the Canadian government website.  Data on permanent stays of students who were holders of a PGWP is publicly available for the period of January 2015 – February 2019.[101]

New Zealand

Policy context

Immigration is a central aspect of New Zealand’s (NZ) economic and social policies. NZ has been struggling to maintain a stable population due to high levels of outflow of its native population to other countries (Australia and the UK in particular). Since the introduction of the points-based system in 1991, New Zealand’s immigration policy has been focused on selection of migrants based on economic and related socio-demographic characteristics as well as skills. However, the 21st century brought about significant shifts in NZ’s immigration policy development and implementation. While a consistently high volume of immigration is deemed vital to NZ's ‘demographic viability’, retention of immigrants has been a long-standing issue for the country. This led to an extensive public consultation in 2004-2005, a review of NZ's immigration policy in 2006, and the implementation of a new and more flexible immigration law in 2009. It provides a framework for a more flexible immigration system enabling policy responses to the changing needs of the country, including the increased need for particular skills and attracting global talent. NZ currently focuses its immigration policy on ensuring the economic and demographic needs of NZ are met but at the same time its workforce is protected from unfair competition and abuse.

Post-Study Work Visa (PSWV) policies are thus tied to both national and regional migration needs. The retention of skilled migrants in New Zealand is a chronic challenge given its small economy and geographic remoteness. In order to encourage international students to study and then potentially stay, the PSWV was introduced in 2005.[102] The purpose of New Zealand’s student visas, including the PSWV, is to contribute to New Zealand’s sustainable economic development by facilitating the entry of genuine students with a focus on attracting and developing students who have the skills and talent New Zealand needs, while managing risk to the country and maintaining social cohesion.[103] Moreover, the PSWV policies aim to encourage international graduates not only to stay in the country but also to move and remain in regions/areas with more acute demographic needs. Therefore, graduates who commit to studying and staying outside the popular Auckland area are granted a longer length of stay on the PSWV by 12 months than those studying in Auckland.  

International students in New Zealand

New Zealand education providers experienced a rapid rise in their international enrolments from 1998 to 2003, driven primarily by interest from Chinese students. New Zealand was one of the first Western countries to permit open access to student visas by Chinese nationals (a measure quickly followed by Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America).[104]

NZ had 54,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 20% of all student enrolments in that year.[105] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: China (31,075), India (19,585); United States (4,445), Malaysia (2,725); Philippines (2,160).[106]

It is worth noting that international students in NZ are more satisfied with social integration aspects of the study experience, including being able to make friends with fellow students from their country of origin as well as making local friends from NZ, than those in comparator countries.[107]

Post-Study Work Visa (Open) – overview

NZ introduced a number of changes to the Post-Study Work Visa in order to increase its attractiveness and accessibility to international students since its introduction in July 2005. Until November 2018, two streams of Post-Study Work Visa were in operation: Open Stream and Employer-Assisted Stream. The Open Visa allowed for 12 months' stay to look for work, the Employer-Assisted Visa allowed for a further 2-3 years of stay once employment was found. The Employer-Assisted Visa tied graduates to a particular employer. After its completion the graduate could qualify  for  a  New  Zealand  resident  visa  under  the  Skilled  Migrant  Category. Nevertheless, as discussed in the section on challenges, abuse of the Employer-Assisted Visa Stream ultimately led to the creation of bogus degrees and consequent lowering of international students’ skills level as well as their labour-market exploitation.[108] Following an evaluation, the Employer-Assisted Visa Stream was discontinued altogether in November 2018. Currently, only the open Post-Study Work Visa is in operation in NZ.  

The NZ Post-Study Work Visa is available to graduates of both degree and selected non-degree programmes for 1-3 years depending on qualification level and place of study (Auckland or elsewhere). It is an open visa allowing to search for work flexibly. PSWV holders can support their partners in applications for work visas.


Students of both degree and selected non-degree study programmes may be eligible for the PSWV, depending on type of qualification and time spent for study in New Zealand.

Eligibility criteria: 

  • Obtaining a qualification at level 7 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (Equivalent to Graduate Certificate/Graduate Diploma/Diploma/Bachelor’s Degree) and having studied for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand; or
  • Obtaining one qualification at levels 4-6 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (equivalent to a Certificate/Diploma) and having studied for at least 60 weeks in New Zealand; or
  • Obtaining two qualifications at levels 4-6 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (equivalent to a Certificate/Diploma) and having studied for at least 30 weeks each in New Zealand (a total of 60 weeks), where the second qualification is of a higher level than the first.

Graduates at bachelor and master level must apply for the PSWV no later than 3 months after the end date of their student visa, and graduates at Doctoral level no later than 6 months after the end date of their student visa.

Length of programme   

The PSWV can be granted for 1-3 years depending on qualification level and whether the beneficiary studied in or outside Auckland. Graduates with a bachelor degree or higher qualification are entitled to a 3-year open visa. Graduates with qualifications below bachelor level are currently entitled to a 1 year visa if they studied in Auckland and 2-year visa if they studied outside Auckland. From 1st January 2022 all graduates with lower degree qualifications will be entitled to a 1-Year Open Post-Study Work Visa plus 1 additional year for students with a Graduate Diploma who are working towards registration with a professional or trade body.

Currently there are no extensions to the programme. As mentioned above, from 1st January 2022 a 1-year extension will be available to students who have completed a Graduate Diploma that is used for registration with a professional or trade body. 

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence 

One of the aims of the PSWV was to attract international students to regions outside the most densely populated Auckland. Statistics indeed demonstrate there has been a 5% decline in student visa holders (stock) in Auckland between June 2016 and June 2017 and a simultaneous increase in other regions: by 8% in Wellington and Otago and by 6% in Waikato.[109]  Whether there is a correlation between the policy and these figures is however unclear: in terms of new visa applications, Auckland remains by far the most popular region of applications (60% of all new student approvals for 2016/17) while e.g. Waikato experienced the greatest decline between 2015/16 and 2016/17 - of 15%.[110] 

In terms of available data on retention rates and student pathways, it has a broader focus on visa categories (e.g. student visa, work visa, resident visa) looking at 5 year intervals.  Among international graduates whose last student visa ended between July 2006 and June 2012, 5 years later 28% had a resident visa, 3% were still on a (temporary) work visa, and 68% had left NZ. Notable year-to-year variations on graduate pathways are visible. For example, the proportion of full-fee paying student visa holders who transitioned to residence 3 years after the end of their student visa fell from a high of 29% in the 2006/07 cohort to 22% among the 2009/10 cohort (notably, this might be attributable to the effects of the global economic crisis).[111] 

No publicly available evaluations of or data on the impact of Post-Study Work Visa policy changes on student numbers or graduate retention rates have been found. Available statistical data focuses on visa category change (e.g. student visa to work visa) without differentiating between the different paths through which the transition could be made (i.e. whether a previous student visa holder moved to the work category by means of securing a Post-Study Work Visa or another type of work visa, e.g. for highly skilled migrants).

United States

Policy context

In 2017, immigrants made up nearly 14% of the U.S. population. Given native-born Americans’ relatively low birth rates, continued immigration to the US is seen as essential to maintain the country’s demographic balance and ensure sufficient numbers of working-age adults. The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), the body of law governing current immigration policy, provides for an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants, with certain exceptions for close family members. Permanent residency allows immigrants to work and live permanently in the United States, apply for nearly all jobs (apart from jobs restricted to U.S. citizens), and remain in the country even if they are unemployed. Each year, the United States also admits foreign nationals on a temporary basis. Moreover, Congress and the President determine a separate number for refugee admissions.

The US operates a highly complex immigration system based on issuing different visa categories. Immigration to the US is based upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity. Highly skilled migration is thus an important part of inflows. The US is also the leading destination country for international students, who significantly contribute to its economy.

International students are admitted to the country on temporary student visas. However, the US offers the opportunity to change status to different groups of foreign students. The principal programme is the H1-B visa for graduates of US universities. Following an increase in the annual cap on the H1-B visa program in 2001, the US became the main attractor of high-skilled migrants among OECD countries.[112] Currently, a total of 85,000 such visas are granted every year: 65,000 for applicants with a bachelor’s or equivalent degree, and 20,000 for those with a master’s or higher degree.[113] However, the numbers of graduates admitted into the workforce through this scheme was seen as too low by US employers, especially in STEM-related professional fields. In effect, the Optional Training Programme (OPT), which has essentially become a post-study work route for international students, was expanded greatly over the last decade. Significantly, this has occurred in response to the pressures exercised by employer lobby groups rather than in result of planned changes to the USA’s immigration policy with regards to international students. It has to be noted here that attitudes and policies towards immigration under the current US presidency have become much more radicalised than previously.  President Donald Trump, who holds strong anti-immigration views and believes in the protection of ‘native Americans’ from immigrants, has recently introduced a number of policy changes with a view to deterring immigrants. These include e.g. introducing tighter selection criteria for the H1-B visa programme and an indefinite ban for nearly all people from seven countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela – from entering the US. Although students are exempt from this ban, the negative atmosphere around immigration from their countries may in itself act as a deterrent from taking up studies in the US. Moreover, the Trump administration is considering changing the whole immigration system of the US and introducing a points-based system. Therefore, American policies towards immigrants are currently in flux and subject to change. The longer-term impacts of these recent political developments, including on international student migration and retention, are hard to evaluate at this point.

International students in the US

The USA is the world leader in international education at tertiary level and has by far the largest international student numbers at 971,000 in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level). At the same time, international students constituted only 5% of all student enrolments in that year.[114] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: China (350,734); India (186,264); South Korea (58,660); Saudi Arabia (61,287); Canada (26,973).[115] 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) - overview

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. The OPT had evolved through consecutive changes to the 1964 immigration law regarding students when the option of ‘practical training’ during study was introduced. At the time, it was not meant to become a route for longer-term student retention, quite the opposite, it was established with the sole aim of providing international students with practical training opportunities linked to their course of study. 

With time, this option evolved into the OPT programme, eventually allowing international students to work both during their studies and after graduating. The programme has evoked and continues to cause a lot of controversy, the main concern being that it creates unfair competition for domestic graduates. Changes to the OPT have been introduced over the years predominantly due to lobbying of various pressure groups. Depending on their demands, both tightening and relaxing OPT regulations has taken place throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. These changes related to eligibility for the programme, its length, and where the OPT could take place. The biggest change occurred in 2008 when the STEM extension was introduced, providing graduates of certain STEM degrees with the opportunity to extend the OPT by 17 months. This change, however, has been deemed unlawful and has been legally challenged. Despite this, a further STEM extension, to 24 months, was introduced in 2016.[116] The introduction of the two STEM extensions has resulted in a huge increase in the number of foreign STEM graduates participating in OPT: by 400% between 2008 and 2016[117]

The OPT programme has been the subject of continuous litigation for many years yet remains to be in operation.[118] The Trump administration has recently tightened regulations for OPT and announced plans to roll back the 2016 employment extension for STEM graduates.

Currently, there are two types of OPT: pre-completion and post-completion. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) completing their academic studies. A 2-year extension is available to graduates of selected STEM degrees working in line with their training. (Post-completion) OPT is flexible in terms of the number of hours worked (but only part-time work of up to 20 hours is permitted in the case of pre-completion).  


Students on F1 visas may apply for OPT. It must be directly related to the applicant's major area of study. 

Length of programme   

The post-completion OPT may last up to 12 months providing the applicant has not done OPT training prior to completion of their studies. If they have, the amount of time spent in OPT prior to completion is deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT

Graduates of selected STEM degrees may apply for a 2-year extension providing that: their degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Programme List, their OPT authorisation was based on this degree, and their employer is enrolled in and using a designated visa verification programme.

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

No publicly available data tracking the impact of the OPT on graduate retention levels has been found. The OPT is a temporary ‘guestworker’ programme and the US does not report on how long a guestworker stays in the country.[119] However, some indication of the numbers of OPT beneficiaries who have stayed in the US may be drawn from data on changes to another visa category, e.g. to H1-B.[120] As mentioned earlier, OPT has evoked a lot of controversy since its introduction, and is deemed to be unlawful. Therefore, many evaluations of the programme have focused on its legal aspects[121] and the negative impacts it may have on domestic graduates, especially at times when there is a 'supply shock,’ that is oversupply of graduates in certain fields. For example, the high levels of retention of doctoral students in science and engineering in the 2000s was found to lead to depressing wages by 3-4% and ‘increased prevalence of low-pay postdoctoral appointments in fields that have softer labour market conditions’.[122] At the same time, however, businesses have argued that the programme is hugely beneficial as it provides a key channel through which highly skilled immigrants contribute to the economic growth of the US – both through work and consumer activity. They also argue that the planned tightening of the programme will make it less attractive and result in a drop in participation rates but also deter some students from coming to the US altogether. 

A recent report by the Business Roundtable reviews the possible impact of a 60% decline in OPT participation by 2020 (modelling assumption). It concludes that such a decline would result in a decrease in real US gross domestic product by about a quarter of a percentage point by 2028, would bring a loss of 443,000 jobs over the next decade (including 225,000 jobs held by native-born workers), and a 17% decline in the average hourly wage by 2028.[123] Similarly, a recent policy report notes the positive rather than negative effects of the OPT: it finds higher levels of OPT participants in a given region lead to increased innovation in that region (as measured by the number of patents) and higher average earnings among those educated at college level. Moreover, the report finds no evidence of adverse effects on average earnings, unemployment, or labour force participation. The report concludes that the US largely benefits from the OPT programme and also argues against tightening of the regulations governing it. What is more, in the interests of further economic development, it recommends granting permanent residency to international graduates of all US higher education institutions (subject to degree level and/or subject area requirements), i.e. retaining selected international students.[124]

European countries

Policies aimed at attracting and retaining international students/highly skilled migrants 

Policies at EU (supranational) level

The importance of attracting international students is well-recognised by the European Union which has the ambition to compete with leading international education providers (such as its non-European competitor countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US) in the global student market. Moreover, as many European countries face the challenges of ageing populations and labour shortages in the knowledge economy, there has been a growing interest in retaining international students within the EU, and especially the more developed EU-15 countries. 

One key difference in terms of policies aimed at attracting and retaining international students within EU Member States as compared to the traditional immigration countries needs to be emphasised at this point – within EU countries immigration policies relate to non-EEA students and graduates exclusively since EEA nationals can move and settle freely within the EU. Therefore, while student recruitment strategies in given Member States are typically aimed at international students across the board, immigration policies relate to students/graduates from third countries (non-EEA nationals) exclusively. 

There has been considerable supranational action by European Union (EU) institutions to influence international student mobility, and migration to and within the EU over the last 20 years.[125] This has focused on two domains: firstly, harmonising European higher education systems, and secondly, harmonising and increasing the flexibility of Member State policies towards students and academics from non-EU/EEA countries. 

With a view of increasing Europe’s attractiveness to international students, the EU has been promoting the integration of national higher education systems in Europe over the last two decades. In 1999, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was established with a view to harmonising European higher education systems (‘the Bologna Process’). In result, a common three-cycle structure of higher education[126] based on the Anglo-Saxon model was introduced across all EU Member States (along with a number of non-EU EHEA signatory countries). This largely facilitated the recognition of European degrees and the circulation of students within Europe. 

Promoting the mobility of intra-EU students and attracting third-country nationals to the EU for the purposes of study has also been a key part of the European Commission’s policy over the last 25 years. The European Commission specifically aims to establish favourable conditions for non-EU/EEA students and researchers, with the goal of making Europe attractive as a centre of excellence for studies, vocational training and research.[127] In 1994 the Council Resolution on the ‘Admission of Third-Country Nationals to the Territory of the Member States of the EU for Study Purposes’ was adopted. The EU also launched several initiatives to foster the mobility of students from both EU and non-EU countries, such as the Erasmus programme. The European Council Directives of 2004 (2004/114/EC) and 2005 (2005/71/EC) created a common legal framework for the admission of non-EU/EEA students and researchers to European institutions.[128] A specific policy to promote immigration of highly skilled persons, students and researchers (both from other EU/EEA as well as third countries) was implemented in 2008.[129] Next, in 2009 regulations facilitating the retention of third-country postgraduate students were implemented,[130] and in May 2016 a new Students and Researchers Directive aimed at further harmonisation of the different national legislative frameworks on these issues was adopted (2016/801). 

The 2016 recast Directive is aimed at retaining higher numbers of third-country national students in the EU after graduation. It clarifies the admission and residence requirements by setting out general conditions for admission, and specific conditions for researchers, students, school pupils, trainees and volunteers. With regard to students, it allows them to stay at least nine months after finishing their studies in order to look for a job or set up a business. In addition, it allows for greater mobility of students within the EU as they only need to notify the Member State to which they are moving, instead of filing a new visa or residence permit application. Lastly, the Directive gives students the right to work for a minimum of 15 hours per week. The deadline for transposition of the 2016 Directive was 23 May 2018. Therefore, many policies aimed at attracting and retaining (non-EEA) students within the Member States will have been introduced recently and have not yet been evaluated. However, a study on Member States’ policies and strategies aimed at attracting and retaining international students is currently at completion stage, with results expected to be published in May 2019.[131]

Policies and strategies at Member State (national) level 

The EU already is an attractive destination for international students, with over 0.6 million first residence permits issued to non-EEA nationals for the purpose of education activities in 2016. In terms of attracting international students, the UK and France ranked second and fourth among the leading host countries for international students in 2014.[132] The UK has a leading role as the main destination country for students to Europe, and the second largest destination country for students in the world (the US being in lead). In European countries where English is not the native language, introducing English language study programmes has become paramount to attracting international students. However, these are predominantly offered in the second and third cycle, i.e. at Master’s and Doctoral level. Within the EU, the Netherlands is the outstanding provider of programmes taught in English with the largest absolute number of such programmes (1,078 in 2014), followed by Germany (1,030), Sweden (822), and France (499).[133] The high number of programmes offered in English in these countries is the key reason why they were chosen for the purposes of this review as European competitors of the UK

While the number of international students in the EU has been rising steadily, the percentage of graduates choosing to stay within the EU remains relatively low. According to the OECD, only 16% to 30% of foreign graduates stay in the EU after completing their studies. Furthermore, stay rates are typically very low among students from other EU/OECD countries, and much higher for students from less developed or politically less stable countries. Data for 2015-2016 shows that the numbers of third country students remaining in the EU post-graduation have increased in many Member States over this period (including in Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxemburg and Sweden) with the exception of the UK, which has noted a decrease of 20.8% between 2015 and 2016. At this point in time, evidence on longer-term stay rates in EU countries remains highly limited with some analysis available[134] for the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.[135]

Although harmonisation of policies regarding third country nationals is under way, the various EU member states continue to regulate non-EU/EEA student migration differently to some extent.[136] Political tensions at Member State level also play out in this process. This has for instance led the UK Government to tighten its policies towards international students in 2012, at a time when its European (and global) competitor countries were moving towards a greater opening of policies.[137] 

The majority of Member States do not have a national strategy for third-country national student retention, nor a national coordinating body for this strategy. Instead, several actors are usually involved, such as the Ministries of Interior and higher education institutions. Although some EU Member States, such as Germany or the Netherlands, have been implementing various strategies aimed at retaining international students, these do not form a systematic national policy on retention.[138] The Netherlands, however, has been working on developing such strategies with support of a national co-ordinating body (Nuffic) and is currently running a number of regional retention strategies supported by the central government. 

Five types of national incentives aimed at retaining international students have been identified across the Member States:

  • simplified application procedures for an authorisation to stay for work or business (e.g. in France);
  • lowered salary requirements for international students as compared to those who have not studied in the Member State (e.g. in the UK);
  • full access to the labour market after graduation that is not restricted by the field of study/work nor limited by reduced working hours (e.g. in France and Sweden);
  • a possibility to remain in the Member State for job search or to set up a business post-study (e.g. France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK);
  • additional incentives, e.g. shortening the number of years former students have to reside in their territory in order to qualify for a permanent residence permit (e.g. in Germany); being entitled to apply for a permit with a view to seeking work up to a few years upon graduating and even after leaving the country of study (e.g. in the Netherlands). 

So far, seven Member States have complied with the 2016 Directive and allow third-country national students to remain in their territory for a minimum period of 9 months after completing their studies, including France, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands. The UK has not implemented the Directive at this point in time. 

In the following sections, we shall look at national-level policies on post-study employment for each of the Member States under review.  


Policy context

France has been developing policies encouraging economic migration from outside the EU/EEA since 2006 when new residence permits were introduced, including a 'Skills and Talents' permit for highly skilled workers. A few years ago France carried out a comprehensive reform of the legislation on foreigners. It entered into force in 2016, relaxing regulations for economic migrants in particular (e.g. the roll-out of multi-annual residence permits, new ‘talent-based’ residence permits).

International students in France

France had 245,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 10% of all student enrolments in that year.[139] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: China (25,388); Morocco (25,223); Algeria (16,558); Tunisia (8,955); Senegal (7,439).[140]

Autorisation Provisioire de Séjour (APS) (Temporary Resident Permit) – overview

In France, the new immigration legislation of 2006 introduced an option for ‘high-potential’ Masters students from third countries to stay for six months after graduation and seek a job in their field of study. The graduates could thus apply for a Temporary Resident Permit or Autorisation Provisioire de Séjour (henceforth APS). The authorisation was non-renewable and in order to receive a temporary work permit afterwards the graduates had to secure employment with a salary of at least 1,5 times the monthly minimum wage and which ‘directly or indirectly benefit(ed) the economic development of France and the student’s home country’.[141] As follows, this policy was not aimed at retaining students in France, quite the opposite – its aim was to provide the students with relevant work experience which they could utilise upon returning to their home country. 

In 2013, a new more flexible law was introduced with a view to facilitating the longer-term retention of third country students. It continued to be limited to students at Masters level or higher but the period of APS granted for job search had been extended from 6 to 12 months, and the condition of returning to the home country after their temporary employment finished had been lifted. However, the implementation of the new law proved challenging with differences occurring across the country (it is the local French prefectures which grant the APS) and some of the rules being dependant on the country of origin.[142]

Another revision and policy change in 2016 further relaxed the regulations for post-study stay. The programme was extended to graduates at bachelor degree level and APS can now be granted not only to look for employment but also to prepare opening one’s own business if this is related to the field of study. Moreover, regulations encouraging circular migration were introduced: a temporary residence permit can be issued to third country graduates who returned to their home countries but wish to return to France for professional purposes within 4 years of obtaining a qualification.  


As is the case for all EU Member States, EU/EEA students are free to stay in France to look for work after graduation.

The APS is open to non-EU/EEA graduates of French universities who have a professional Bachelor's or higher degree and/or want to start their own business related to their field of study. Until they sign a fixed-term or permanent work contract and move onto a different residency permit, APS holders are authorised to work under the same conditions as if they were students: a maximum of 964 hours per year or approximately 20 hours per week.

Candidates have to apply for the APS prior to the expiration date of their current residency permit (before or after study completion, depending on permit expiry date).

Length of programme   

Up to 12 months. The post-study APS cannot be extended. 

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

There appear to be no formal evaluations of the impacts of the most recently implemented post-study regulations. However, France is one of the countries taking part the 2018 EMN (European Migration Network) Study on ‘Attracting and retaining international students in the EU’, the results of which are expected to be published in May 2019. 


Policy context

Germany introduced an immigration law in 2005 allowing international graduates of German universities to stay in the country for up to 12 months to seek employment. Since November 2007, foreign graduates of German universities are also exempt from the labour market test if their employment corresponds to their studies.[143] In January 2009 numerous legal changes aimed at facilitating migration of the highly skilled, students and researchers were introduced in Germany through the Labour Migration Steering Act. Germany is continuing to review its policies. The most recent change in German’s migration policy has been the adoption of a draft for a Skilled Labour Immigration Act by the Federal government in December 2018, which might lead to changes in the legal stipulations for international students, too.[144]

Germany has developed strong outreach aimed at attracting and retaining international graduates. It has a network of missions worldwide at which graduates of German universities who returned their countries of origin after completing their studies can apply for a visa to return to Germany to look for employment (within four years of obtaining their degree). Moreover, several governmental initiatives and online information portals informing third-country nationals of the options regarding studying and finding employment have been established in Germany.[145] Germany has also been working on expanding its offer of study programmes in English and German HEIs currently offer 1,438 courses of study (or 7% of the total) in English. Even though the number of English-language courses has risen significantly over the last decade, it is still small in comparison to other major destination countries. Nevertheless, Germany has been very successful in increasing numbers of international students and has already surpassed its goal of having 350,000 foreign students enrolled at German HEIs by 2020 with 358,895 foreign students already enrolled in German HEIs in the winter semester of 2016/17.[146] It must be noted, however, that the term ‘foreign students’ used for this statistic encompasses third-country nationals who enter Germany for either a complete course of study or only parts of it. 

International students in Germany

Germany had 245,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 8% of all student enrolments in that year.[147] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: China (32,268); India (13,537); Russia (11,413); Austria (10,129); France (7,330).[148]

Residence Permit for purposes of job seeking - overview


As is the case for all EU Member States, EU/EEA students are free to stay in Germany to look for work after graduation.

Non-EU/EEA graduates of German universities can apply for a residence permit which extends their right to stay and work in Germany by 18 months. They need to have comprehensive health insurance and proof of means to support themselves during job-seeking or a declaration from a guarantor. Candidates can apply as soon as they have passed their final university exams.

Graduates who left Germany after graduation may apply for a 6-month residence permit to return to look for work, providing they are able to support themselves while staying in Germany. Germany has a world-wide network of missions and candidates can apply for the visa at the relevant German mission abroad (Federal Government of Germany: 2019).

Length of programme  

Up to 18 months. The post-study residence permit cannot be extended. 

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

There are no formal evaluations of the impacts of the most recently implemented post-study regulations on stay rates of international students in Germany. The most extensive source of evidence on attracting and retaining international students in Germany is a recently published (March 2019) country report[149] for the purposes of the broader EU studies mentioned earlier,  the EMN Study on ‘Attracting and retaining international students in the EU’.

The Statistics of higher education by the Federal Statistical Office provide the most thorough statistical information on foreign and international students in Germany. They are based on the HEIs’ administrative data (Statistisches Bundesamt) and do not include information on the students’ residence status or the type of residence title they hold.[150] Therefore, currently there is no statistical data available in Germany which would allow to track the links between the Residence Permit for purposes of job seeking (or Germany’s post-study work offer in other words) and student retention rates. 


Policy context

Ireland’s immigration policy operates within the framework of an employment permit system. It is designed to supplement Ireland's skills and labour supply over the short to medium term by allowing enterprises to recruit nationals from outside the EEA where such skills or expertise cannot be sourced within the EEA at that time. Therefore, Irish immigration policy is based on the premise that the country should recruit non-EEA workers only for those jobs which cannot be filled by domestic or EEA labour. Since Ireland has many high tech businesses, this creates a distinct need for highly skilled workers, and this has been Ireland’s focus for many years. In late 2012, the State’s economic migration policy was reviewed. It concluded that, despite the recession and a labour market surplus, Ireland still needed skills which were in short supply globally. To position the State to better compete with other countries for highly skilled migrants to meet the skills requirements of enterprise, the employment permits system was accordingly adjusted within the legal framework of the Employment Permits Act 2006. The Employment Permits (Amendment) Act 2014 clarified the statutory basis for the regime, and provided for more flexibility and targeted instruments in support of the economy’s evolving skills’ needs. However, the growing demand for workers in lower-skilled sectors has led Ireland to yet again review its permit system in 2018.

Ireland’s 2010-2015 International Education Strategy set out a coherent government strategy around internationalisation and was the first of its kind in Europe to set targets.[151] The majority of the actions focused on increasing the recruitment of international students and was successful in exceeding set targets. The 2016-2020 International Education Strategy aims inter alia to increase the numbers of international students and researchers coming to Irish HEIs and to ‘connect the benefits of internationalisation with enterprises in support of national economic ambitions’.[152] These goals are interconnected with Ireland’s current immigration policy.

International students in Ireland

Despite being an English-speaking country, Ireland is not an internationally well-known study destination yet and has the lowest numbers of international students of all the countries under review. However, the Irish government and university sector have great ambitions for expansion. Irish HEIs have indeed achieved considerable success in their internationalisation efforts over the last two decades. Between 2000/01 and 2012/13 the number of international students attending Irish HEIs increased from 4,184 to 10,981[153] and reached 18,000 by 2016.[154] Ireland has also been successful in diversifying the range of students’ origin countries, attracting students from the more ‘obvious’ source countries, such as China, India, and the US (where there is a large Irish diaspora) but also Brazil and Saudi Arabia.[155] 

As mentioned, Ireland had 18,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, Mmaster and PhD level) with international students constituting 8% of all student enrolments in that year.[156] The majority of international students in Ireland are enrolled in postgraduate level courses.[157] In 2016-17, the USA accounted for most international students in Ireland (4,696), followed by China (2,153), Saudi Arabia (1,396), Malaysia (1,380) and Canada (1,356).[158] 

Third Level Graduate Programme – overview

The Third Level Graduate Programme (TLGP) was first introduced in April 2007. It allowed non-EEA graduates from Irish universities to remain in Ireland for six months after graduation in order to find employment and apply for a work permit or green card. During this period they were allowed to work.[159] 

The programme was subsequently amended in 2011 in the context of the student immigration reforms of that year and reviewed once again in 2016 as part of the second international education strategy, ‘Irish Educated Globally Connected’. In 2017 further changes, focused on retaining the highest achieving students and assisting them to transition into the workforce, were introduced. Graduates who received an award on or before 31st December 2016 were entitled to a 6-month residence permit. The changes of 2017 extended the permit period to 12-24 months. At the same time, however, the required level of qualification was put up from level 7 (Ordinary Bachelor degree) to level 8 (Honours Bachelor degree). 

The TLGP allows legally resident non-EEA graduates who hold degrees from recognised Irish HEIs to remain in Ireland after their studies and look for graduate level employment. TLGP beneficiaries are expected to apply for a general employment permit, a critical skills employment permit or research hosting agreement by the end of the programme.


As is the case for all EU Member States, EU/EEA students are free to stay in Ireland to look for work after graduation.

The TLGP is open to non-EEA graduates who:

  • completed their studies in Ireland and have been awarded a qualification by a recognised Irish awarding body at Higher Diploma/Honours Bachelor's Degree or above (language and non-degree programme students are not eligible for the programme), and;
  • hold a current Stamp 2 student immigration permission and an up-to-date immigration registration card; and,
  • have not exceeded the seven-year limit on their permission to stay in Ireland as a non-EEA student.

Candidates must apply within 6 months of receiving their qualification. TLGP beneficiaries are permitted to work full time in accordance with employment law provisions but are not permitted to operate a business or to be self-employed.

Length of programme   

The length of the TLGP depends on qualification level:

  • Graduates at bachelor level are entitled to stay from 12 months up to any length of time that will amount to a total of 7 years of residence under a student visa and the TLGP combined; 
  • Graduates at Masters and Doctoral level are entitled to stay from 24 months up to any length of time that will amount to a total of 8 years of residence under a student visa and TLGP combined. However, Masters level graduates are initially granted 12 months' stay with a further possibility of a 12-month extension dependent on an evaluation of their job seeking efforts and employability. While a minimum salary threshold is not a formal requirement, candidates seeking extension are assessed in line with the salary thresholds set by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

There are no formal evaluations of the impacts of the most recently implemented post-study regulations. However, Ireland is one of the countries taking part the 2018 EMN (European Migration Network) Study on ‘Attracting and retaining international students in the EU’, the results of which are expected to be published in May 2019.  

The Netherlands

Policy context

The Netherlands has a highly internationally oriented knowledge economy and a keen interest in improving its current policies aimed at attracting and retaining highly skilled migrants.[160]  It is one of the few EU countries which monitors international student retention and has implemented initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining international students, in given regions especially. Nuffic, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education, plays the role of national coordinator of international student retention programmes. It facilitates access of international graduates to the Dutch labour market by removing bureaucratic obstacles and coordinates an alumni network of international students.[161] It also provides statistics and analysis on international students in the Netherlands.

In 2014 the Netherlands launched ‘Make it in the Netherlands!,’ an action plan of the government, universities, colleges, municipalities, student organizations and companies aimed at retaining international students. The aims of this programme were:

  • To make all international students feel welcome in the Netherlands;
  • To retain as many international students as possible to work in the Netherlands after they graduate;
  • To ensure that all international students maintain a bond with the Netherlands after they have completed their studies, even if they return to their home countries.

The programme activities focused on five areas:

  • Facilitating learning Dutch (both through classroom-based and online language courses);
  • Providing detailed information (including through events such as career fairs and meetings with employers) on the Dutch labour market, work opportunities and transition from study to work;
  • Providing opportunities for international students to mix with Dutch students;
  • Removing formal barriers to staying in the Netherlands post-study as far as possible, including simplification of administrative processes and providing wide-ranging information in English;
  • Supporting regional retention projects with the aim of building on these as examples for national-level policy. 

A detailed description and evaluation of the ‘Make it in the Netherlands’ programme is available in Dutch and has not been included in this review.[162]

As mentioned above, some regions in the Netherlands carry out their own recruitment of highly skilled workers (including international students and graduates). For example, Brainport Eindhoven is a world-class technology region which is actively running its own advertising campaign aimed at attracting and retaining global talent. They have a recruitment and information website[163] and provide various forms of assistance to facilitate settling in the region. The programme is supported by the Dutch government. For instance, Expat Centre South, a non-profit governmental agency, helps arrange formalities free of charge. Moreover, it offers in-depth information about studying, working and living in the region, and even organises events enabling migrants considering moving there to meet people already settled in Brainport. Brainport Eindhoven provides an example of a wide-ranging global talent recruitment campaign at regional level within the EU

International students in the Netherlands

The Netherlands had 90,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 11% of all student enrolments in that year.[164] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: Germany (22,189); China (4,347); Italy (3,347); Belgium (2,976); United Kingdom (2,778).[165]

Orientation Year for Highly Qualified Persons – overview

The Netherlands introduced opportunities for international students to stay and look for high-skilled work after the completion of their studies in 2006. Initially, this was for up to three months after graduation. If the graduate managed to find highly skilled employment within this period, they would receive a residence permit; otherwise, they had to leave the Netherlands.[166] 

Since that time a number of changes aimed at providing greater flexibility for attracting and retaining international students have been introduced. A major change was implemented in 2014 following an evaluation of immigration policies aimed at highly skilled migrants. In effect, two schemes for highly skilled migrants were merged into one: the ‘Orientation Year for Graduates’ was combined with the ‘Highly Qualified Migrants Scheme’ to become the ‘Orientation Year for Highly Qualified Persons’. The target group of the scheme was expanded to include researchers who had completed a programme of research in the Netherlands, and third-country nationals who had completed a post-doctoral programme in the Netherlands or at an international top-200 university.[167] 

The Dutch Orientation Year for Highly Qualified Persons (henceforth Orientation Year) is a very flexible programme allowing non-EEA graduates of degree courses completed at Dutch HEIs to stay and look for work after completing their studies. In some cases it is also open to graduates from abroad. Candidates can apply for the ‘Orientation Year' within 3 years of completing their studies. The Orientation Year provides the opportunity to work in the Netherlands without any restrictions, and allows for self-employment and opening one’s own business.


As is the case for all EU Member States, EU/EEA students are free to stay in the Netherlands to look for work after graduation.

The Orientation Year is open to non-EEA graduates who:

  • Completed studies at bachelor, master or doctoral level in the Netherlands;
  • Completed part of their studies in the Netherlands (e.g. Master's Erasmus Mundus students)
  • Completed their studies at a top international HE institution and fulfil a number of additional requirements.

Candidates may apply for the programme up to 3 years from completing their studies and it is possible to apply from outside the Netherlands. 

Length of programme

Up to 12 months. The length of the programme cannot be extended but graduates can apply for an Orientation Year more than once if they go on to complete a different course of study or programme of scientific research. 

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

The Netherlands has the most comprehensive monitoring system and data on international student retention out of the EU countries reviewed in this report (and possibly within the EU in general). Nevertheless, the effects of a number of policy actions introduced in recent years, such as the Orientation Year and the ‘Make it in the Netherlands!’ programme are not yet reflected in the data.[168] Statistical data on pathways of international students in the Netherlands is available from 2006. Available analysis looks at student retention rates up to 5 years of completing their studies, and relates to cohorts of students who began or completed their studies prior to the introduction of the above mentioned policies/strategies (2006-2007 up to 2012-2013).

On average, 24.7% of all international graduates of Dutch HEIs who completed their studies between 2006 and 2013 were still living in the Netherlands 5 years after graduating. This amounts to around 22,000 international students in total. However, there are significant differences in stay rates between different cohorts. For instance, the stay rate for those who graduated in 2006 was 29.3% but for the 2012 cohort it fell to 22.7%, that is by 6.6%. This can be largely attributed to economic conditions at the time of graduation: the 2006 cohort entered the labour market prior to the global economic crisis of 2008 while at the time the 2012 cohort was graduating the high skilled work sector had not yet recovered from the effects of the crisis (the recovery only started after 2013).[169] 

Dutch retention statistics confirm the role of length of time spent in the country for retention. International students in the Netherlands are most likely to leave in the first year following their graduation: about half of them leave within this time. After one year the stay rate is still high at 49.0% yet it drops to 24.7% after five years (these figures are based on stay rates of graduates who began their studies between 2006 and 2012).[170] 

Significantly, graduates from outside the EEA stay more often than graduates from EEA countries: for international graduates who graduated in the Netherlands between 2006-2007 and 2012-2013 the stay rate 5 years after study completion was 38.6% for non-EEA graduates as compared to 18.3% for EEA graduates.[171] While the overwhelming majority of international students in the Netherlands are from Germany (near 22,000 in 2017), their stay rate of around 25% five years after graduation is lower than that for the second country of origin, China (near 4,350 students in 2017). China has an average stay rate of around 36% on an annual basis and accounts for more than 350 graduates staying in the Netherlands. Indonesia, Poland and Belgium all have a relatively high stay rate, between 38% and 48%, which amounts to more than 100 stayers from each of these countries five years after graduation.[172] 

Moreover, there are notable differences in stay rates depending on degree level and field of study. On average, university graduates stay more often than college graduates in the Netherlands, with technical universities having a particularly high stay rate. 

In terms of spatial distribution, international graduates do not evenly distribute themselves throughout the Netherlands and do not always live where they have studied. Most settle in three major cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.[173]

Looking at employment rates of international graduates 5 years after study completion, these are comparable to employment rates for the Dutch population. 

It has been estimated that – at a stay rate of at least 19% – international graduates in the Netherlands provide a net profit of at least € 1.64 billion annually. 


Policy context

Sweden carried out a reform of its immigration policies related to workers from abroad in December 2008. The reform was designed to create an effective, flexible system for labour immigration – an entirely demand-driven and employer-led system allowing for recruitment at all skills levels. The reform was driven by the following factors: 

  • particular skill/labour shortages that could not be filled by workers resident in Sweden or those from other EU countries; 
  • an ageing population and diminishing numbers of people of working age; this was seen as a threat to Sweden’s future economic growth and the long-term sustainability of its welfare system. 

Under the reformed system, employers needed to prove that they could not recruit a suitable employee from Sweden or any other EU country. The new legislation also guaranteed full protection of migrants' employment rights and of employers, and prevention of wage and social dumping.

With regards to non-EEA students, a few important policy changes took place over the last decade. In 2011 Sweden introduced tuition fees for third country students (while studies for native and EEA students remained free) along with residence permit cards with biometric identifiers. This resulted in a sharp decline in student numbers with 6,836 residence permits for the purpose of study issued in 2011 as compared to 14,188 in 2010.

Another key policy change took place in 2014 with the introduction of a Residence Permit for the purposes of seeking work post-study. Up till that time, non-EEA students were only permitted to remain in Sweden if they had secured work prior to graduation and applied for a residence permit for work before the expiry date of their study-related residence permit (which is very similar to current policies in the UK). The new Residence Permit allowed students who had studied in the country for at least 2 years to remain in Sweden for the purposes of seeking employment for 6 months after graduation (subject to meeting a number of formal requirements). 

A recent study has shown that attracting and retaining international students is an evolving policy area in Sweden. It is both a matter of migration policy and the Swedish government’s and HEIs’ ambitions to create internationally competitive higher education, teaching and research environments and a lot of concerted effort has been put into developing relevant policies over the last years. Significantly, study-related immigration has not triggered any major controversial debates in Sweden, it is overwhelmingly seen positively.[174]

International students in Sweden

Sweden had 28,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 7% of all student enrolments in that year.[175] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: France (11,771); Germany (3,625); Finland (2,495); China (2,374); India (1,316).[176]

Residence Permit for the purposes of seeking work - overview

Non-EEA graduates of Swedish universities at bachelor and master level may apply for a residence permit to seek employment or open their own business subject to meeting certain requirements. The graduates need to be resident in Sweden at the time of applying. The permit is valid for up to 6 months. The beneficiary's family members also receive a residence permit for this time. Doctoral-level students may qualify directly for permanent residency after 4 years' residence subject to meeting certain conditions.


As is the case for all EU Member States, EU/EEA students are free to stay in Sweden to look for work after graduation.

Non-EEA graduates of Swedish universities at bachelor and master levels may apply for a 6-month residence permit to look for work in Sweden upon completion of their studies providing they meet the following requirements:

  • they studied in Sweden for at least two terms and had a study visa valid for minimum 2 years; 
  • they are based in Sweden at the time of application; 
  • they have the means to sustain themselves during the application process; 
  • they have comprehensive healthcare cover; 
  • their passport is valid for the whole period of intended stay in Sweden.  

Graduates of Doctoral studies may apply for permanent residency upon completion of their studies providing they have lived in Sweden and have had a residence permit for doctoral studies for a total of four years within the past seven years and intend to stay in Sweden.

Length of programme   

The length of the Residence Permit issued for the purposes of seeking work depends on the degree level: 

  • graduates with bachelor’s and master's degrees may receive a permit of up to 6 months;
  • graduates with doctoral degrees may apply for permanent residency upon completing their studies. 

The Residence Permit issued for purposes of job seeking post-study cannot be extended.

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

Looking at the data on student numbers over the last 15 years, it seems that the introduction of the 2014 post-study residence permit for the purpose of job seeking has had a positive impact on attracting non-EEA students. Prior to introducing tuition fees for non-EEA students in 2011 (and the residency permit in 2014) study-related immigration from outside the EU/EEA increased strongly in Sweden: from 6,837 residence permits for purpose of study in 2005 to 14,188 in 2010. As noted previously, the introduction of tuition fees in 2011 had a huge negative impact on numbers of non-EEA students as issued permits plummeted to 6,836 in 2011 and 7,092 in 2012. However, since the introduction of the post-study Residence Permit non-EU/EEA student numbers have been growing steadily with a record 13,416 residence permits issued for the purpose of study in 2017. Its positive effects are also reflected in uptake of the opportunity: since the policy was introduced in 2014 almost 1,500 third country graduates moved from the residence permit for the purposes of study to one for the purposes of job seeking. 122 such permits were granted in 2014, 334 in 2015, 445 in 2016, and 562 in 2017. Research has also found that the stay of international graduates in Sweden is increasingly related to work purposes. Among all third-country nationals who were granted a residence permit for work purposes in 2017, 778 were graduates of Swedish HEIs.[177] Nevertheless, the retention rates for international students in Sweden remain relatively low: in 2015-2016, it was estimated to be around 7%.[178] The low stay rates of international students in Sweden despite the favourable formal conditions of stay may partly be attributed to practical barriers: lack of affordable housing, poor knowledge of Swedish resulting in difficulty in accessing the labour market, lack of professional networks, residence permit processing times, and the need to provide proof of evidence of sufficient resources.[179]

Access to data and evidence on Sweden is limited due to language issues and only evidence available in English has been assessed. Nevertheless, as follows from the recently published country report for the 2018 EMN study on ‘Attracting and retaining international students in the EU’ it follows that at this point in time Sweden does not have developed systems of tracking international students’ further destinations and retention rates.[180] 

The UK/Scotland

Policy context

The UK carried out a major change to its immigration system when the current points-based system (PBS) for third country nationals was introduced. It was based on the Australian model and its object was to simplify the (visa-based) immigration system on the one hand, and enable careful selection of migrants on the other. Only those non-EEA migrants with skills that could not be filled from the domestic/EEA workforce were to be accepted, with a focus on highly skilled workers. The PBS was launched in phases between March 2008 and March 2009, through successive Statements of Changes to the Immigration Rules. Tier 4 (for students) was the last to be launched, in March 2009. It substituted the earlier student visa system. 

At present, the UK has no designated post-study work scheme. However, such schemes operated in the UK in the 2000s, both prior to and after the introduction of the PBS. The first of these was the ‘Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme’, the aim of which was to address (to some extent) the demographic challenge facing Scotland as well as labour shortages in key sectors. It was launched in June 2005 as part of the wider ‘Fresh Talent Initiative’. ‘Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme’ was rather flexible and enabled non-EEA graduates of Scottish HEIs to remain in, or return to, Scotland in order to work. Applicants had to fulfil three basic conditions: to be awarded a Higher National Diploma, UK recognised undergraduate degree, master’s degree or PhD by a Scottish HEI within a period of 12 months prior to applying; to have lived in Scotland for at least 3 months for a course lasting one academic year and at least 6 months for a two-year course; and to work or look for work in Scotland. There were no restrictions on the type of work and no salary threshold requirements. Candidates could apply from within the UK or from overseas. Programme beneficiaries could stay in Scotland for a maximum of two years on the scheme, and were expected to apply for other work visas after its end. The scheme was managed by the Home Office and operated between 2005 and 2008.[181]

In 2008, the UK (Labour) Government decided to extend the scheme to all foreign graduates in the UK. It was subsequently made part of the general Points Based System (PBS) under Tier 1 - Post-Study Work. Under this scheme, third country nationals who graduated from British HEIs were allowed to stay in the UK for two years after completing their studies to work or look for work.  However, in 2012 a decision to discontinue the scheme was taken due to the apparent abuse of the immigration system and the scheme’s objectives not being met (many graduates on this visa were not being employed in skilled work which was a key objective of the programme). The decision was met with strong opposition on the part of the UK University sector concerned about its negative impact on international student numbers and the UK’s competiveness in the global higher education market. The Scottish Government also raised objections to the decision. Following the closure of the scheme, graduates of UK HEIs are still able to work after their studies but under the more selective routes for skilled workers, graduate entrepreneurs, and professional training or internships.[182]

Significantly, the post-study work scheme might be re-introduced post-Brexit. The UK Government’s 2018 immigration white paper, ‘The UK’s Future Skills-Based Immigration System,’ includes plans of introducing an extended post-study work visa of 6 months for bachelor’s and master's degree students and of 12 months for doctoral students. During this time the graduates will have unrestricted access to work. Moreover, international students will be able to apply for a skilled work visa 3 months before their course ends, or to switch into skilled work from their home country for up to two years after graduation.[183]

International students in the UK

The UK remains an extremely popular destination for international students, attracting more students from abroad than any other country except the much larger USA. However, the UK’s closest competitors, such as the USA, Australia, France and Germany, all continue to grow at a faster rate than the UK with growth rates of 9.4%, 10.7%, 1.8% and 8.7% respectively in 2014-15.[184]

International students to the UK come primarily from non-EU countries. In 2017, an estimated 70% of students moving to the UK came from non-EU countries (128,000 out of 184,000 non-UK long-term immigrants). China has been an increasingly important country of origin for international students, rising from just 10% of student visas in 2005 to 40% in 2017.[185] 

The UK had 432,000 international tertiary-level students in 2016 (at bachelor, master and PhD level) with international students constituting 18% of all student enrolments in that year.[186] The top 5 countries of student origin in 2017 were: China (97,850); the United States (28,125); Malaysia (18,400); Germany (18,205); India (18,015).[187]

Post-study work options – overview

Currently, the UK has no designated post-study work programme. Non-EEA graduates who have a student visa (Tier 4) may stay in the UK to look for work for 4 months after completing their studies. If they receive a job offer during this time, they may apply for a general visa (Tier 2) which allows them to stay in the UK for the purposes of work. Otherwise, they must leave the UK


As is the case for all EU Member States, EU/EEA students are currently free to stay in the United Kingdom to look for work after graduation. Nevertheless, at this point in time how their situation will change post-Brexit remain unclear. 

The Tier 4 student visa includes a 4 month period on completion of studies where the graduate can legally remain in the UK and look for an employer who will sponsor them. If the graduate finds a sponsor they can transfer to a Tier 2 points based visa while in employment. The eligibility requirements for a Tier 2 visa are:

  • Having a UK bachelor’s degree /UK master’s degree/ PGCE/PGDE/minimum 12 months PhD study;
  • proven English language ability;
  • sufficient funds to support themselves and their dependants.

Length of programme

The period permitted for post-study job seeking under Tier 4 (study visa) is 4 months and cannot be extended.

The Tier 2 (general) visa allows third country nationals to work in the UK for 3 years with the possibility of extending the visa by another 2 years. 

Evaluation of the programme and available evidence

Between 2005 and 2008, 7,620 non-EEA students benefitted from the ‘Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland’ scheme.[188] Between 2008 and 2012, the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work Visa) was in operation for third country nationals in the whole of the UK. The scheme was very popular and it has been argued that its closure resulted in a fall in student numbers. The UK suffered an unprecedented decline in international student applications (−29%) between 2007 and 2013, most notably from India. However, this can also be attributed to other changes the Home Office introduced in the student visa system from 2010 onwards. The changes were aimed at reducing abuse of the student route and included new requirements for international students and the institutions hosting them, such as English language competence, restriction to bring dependants for below degree level students, or a Highly Trusted Status license for sponsoring institutions. Nevertheless, other evidence indicates that the UK’s comparatively poor post-study work offer is indeed a key factor in the decrease in international students coming to the UK. A study carried out in 2015 found that 36% of prospective students who chose not to study in the UK cited post-study work options as a reason for their decision.[189] This was the principal factor given, followed by two very similar concerns about job prospects in the UK and ability to stay in the UK.[190] 

The closure of the Post-Study Work programme (Tier 1 category) was also reflected in the stay rates of international students: the number of visa changes from education reasons into remunerated activities reasons dropped from 38,505 in 2012 to 6,235 in 2013. In March 2014, the Home Office reported a drop of post-study applicant approvals from 23,149 to 713 (particularly affecting former Nigerian, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan applicants).[191] In 2017, 8,486 people who previously held study visas were granted extensions to remain in the UK in a category other than study.[192] This is down from 44,144 (81% decrease) in 2012, the year in which the dedicated ‘post-study work’ route was closed.[193]

The literature points out that little evaluation of the UK’s post-study work scheme had occurred prior to its closure in 2012, including on former international students’ attractiveness to prospective UK employers.[194] The UK Government argued that the scheme had been misused and failed to fulfil its main object to enable foreign graduates to gain UK work experience commensurate with their qualifications and skills level. However, the closure was largely motivated by the UK Government’s commitment to cutting down net immigration. The reliability of the data and analysis on which the UK Government based the decision to discontinue the scheme has been repeatedly questioned.[195]



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