How Much Do International Students Bring to the UK Economy?

How Much Do International Students Bring to the UK Economy?

Sabrina Collier

Updated September 4, 2023 Updated September 04

A new study has found that a single cohort of international students will contribute a whopping £3.2 billion to the UK economy over 10 years through income tax and National Insurance payments – but the government is nonetheless proposing more restrictions on post-study work visas.

The report, conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kaplan International Pathways (Kaplan), also found that international students are also finding graduate jobs in sectors with acute skills shortages – debunking the idea that they could be taking jobs that would otherwise be held by UK students.

The amounts don’t take into account tuition fees, which also inject billions every year into the economy. The report found that EU students contribute £1.2 billion, while non-EU students contribute £2 billion, and contributions also varied across different study levels, with master’s graduates contributing the most, at £1.6 billion.

The impact of post-study work visa restrictions

The report also found that the government’s decision to scrap post-study work visas in 2012 (which previously allowed international graduates to stay in the UK for up to two years) has actually cost the country around £150 million a year. In order to stay and work in the UK after graduation, international (non-EU) graduates currently have just four months after the end of their course to apply for a Tier 2 General Work Visa by getting a job that pays at least £20,800 per year, or by finding sponsorship as an entrepreneur.

And although the number of international students in the UK continues to rise year on year, it’s not nearly as fast-growing as the number of overseas students coming to other English-speaking study destinations such as Canada or Australia, with both perhaps perceived to offer more welcoming post-study work visa options.

With the UK’s exit from the European Union looming, and warnings that employers could miss out on talented, skilled graduates who help to fill skill gaps in fields like engineering, technology and medicine, university leaders have called on the government to introduce a new work visa to allow international students to stay longer after graduation, to send a more welcoming message. Under the proposal, graduates would be sponsored by their university rather than an employer, and be able to stay for up to two years on a more flexible basis than the current Tier 2 visa.

However, proposals from the government’s White Paper, published in December 2018, actually show that there are plans to restricting work visas further by setting the minimum required salary threshold to £30,000. International graduates would however be given six months rather than four to find a job after graduating (12 months for doctoral graduates) – a minor extension, but one that would be welcomed nonetheless.

UK Universities: #WeAreInternational

The report was welcomed by both the National Union of Students (NUS) and the #WeAreInternational campaign, which was launched in 2013 by the University of Sheffield to celebrate and emphasize the importance of diversity in the university’s student and staff, in response to concerns from international students about negative media coverage and some political statements on immigration in the UK.

Within this campaign, the university points out that the contribution of international students goes far  beyond their financial value, with their research demonstrating that these students are also well ingrained in the city’s life, working and volunteering in hospitals, charities and schools as well as enriching Sheffield’s culture with music, food, dance and language events throughout the year.

A spokesperson for the UK-wide #WeAreInternationalcampaign said: “This report underpins the case to reinstate the competitive post-study work rights for which students themselves have long lobbied.

“Far from the idea that international students who undertake a period of work after their courses should be discouraged, we now know international graduates are a national asset. It is in our interest and theirs to make sure our visa system reflects that.”

What’s your opinion on the report’s findings? Let us know in the comments below.

This article was originally published in March 2019 . It was last updated in March 2021

Written by

The former Assistant Editor of, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 


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