Britain is weighing up allowing international students to take up more part-time jobs to address staff shortages businesses are facing.
Foreign students are currently permitted to work for a maximum of 20 hours a week during term time and The Times has reported that discussions have begun within the government on raising the cap to 30 hours or entirely removing it.
Official data show the net migration into the UK reached a record high of 504,000 last year with 476,000 out of the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the year to last June being students.
However, home secretary Suella Braverman is seeking to reduce the number of foreign students arriving in Britain to bring down the net immigration numbers. Stemming inward immigration is a key election pledge of the governing Conservative party.
Braverman is also planning to shorten the maximum duration overseas students can stay in Britain after their course to six months from two years.
Fees from foreign students are vital for the economic sustenance of British universities and experts feel any significant reduction in the number of international students could push institutions into an existential crisis.
The idea of easing restrictions on foreign students to work while studying comes as businesses are urging the government to permit more overseas hiring to fill up vacancies. There is a requirement of 1.3 million workers in the country as the economy is battling a downturn. Students ready to work part-time generally find jobs in the hospitality and retail sectors.
While some universities think allowing students to work for longer hours would make education in the UK more attractive to foreigners, several academics believe it could impact their studies.
Meanwhile, a review led by the work and pensions secretary Mel Stride is also looking at ways to encourage some of the nine million economically inactive people to work.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak recently said a “staggering” number of people were not working when “businesses are crying out for workers”.