UK universities attract a wealth of talent from around the world. Approximately 23% of students enrolling in the 2021/2022 academic year were considered overseas students according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency and contributed some £41.9 billion toward the UK economy. Unsurprisingly, some of these students wish to continue living in the UK; seeking employment here and will require suitable immigration permission to do so.
We take a look at the immigration options from the perspective of employers who may want to tap into that overseas talent, to secure graduates in high-demand, shortage areas and expand the diversity and cultural reach of their workforces.
Skilled Worker Visa
A Skilled Worker visa within the revised post-Brexit Points Based System requires sponsorship from a licenced employer:
- A UK-based higher education student should be eligible to switch status within the UK (leave to remain) provided they have completed their studies.
- If you already employ someone who has a graduate visa, they should also be eligible to switch the Skilled Worker route from within the UK.
To apply for a Skilled Worker visa, the individual requires sponsorship by a UK-based employer who holds a valid sponsor licence. Whilst they may be considered as a ‘new entrant’ to the labour market, their job must still be suitably skilled and meet the salary thresholds to be suitable for sponsorship. These thresholds are adjusted for the first couple of years to take account of new graduate-level market pay.
A sponsor licence is a key tool for employers in the challenge of finding suitably skilled employees from the breadth of UK graduates.
International students who have been achieved an eligible UK higher education award are eligible to apply for a stand-alone Graduate visa. First introduced in July 2021, the Graduate visa was designed to help the UK ‘to retain the brightest and best’ in the post-Brexit labour market by allowing holders to obtain UK-based employment. The visa is usually valid for a 2-year period (qualification dependant) and is non-extendable but can then be switched into another category such as Skilled Worker.
No sponsorship is required for the Graduate visa, but it does not of itself count towards indefinite leave to remain (settlement). Skilled Worker does count.
Graduate visa applications should be submitted within the UK and before the holder’s leave as a student expires. As it is stand-alone and sponsor-free, a holder may change employment without making a further application.
In the News – Suella steps in
You may have noticed recent media attention around Student and/or Graduate visas. Wishing to strike a more hawkish tone, the Government announced it was looking at tightening up what it regarded as potential for and evidence of misuse of the Graduate and Student routes in a statement from the Home Secretary. The Immigration Rules have been changed to require a student to have ‘completed’ their studies before applying for leave to remain as a Graduate or under a work-visa route; this is intended to close a loophole enabling applicants to come in one category, bring dependents and then switch to another that is inaccessible from outside the UK.
From January 2024, most individuals with Student visas will no longer be able to bring family members to the UK on linked Dependant visas. This may make the UK a less attractive study destination for some and is likely to have been introduced to assist with the aim of reducing net migration to the UK. Employers may find that students/graduates switching to the Skilled Worker route are looking for their eligible family members to join them in the UK at this time, by applying for entry clearance as their PBS Dependants.
The Home Office has increased visa application fees with effect from 04 October 2023. (see this article).
What if I want to hire a recent graduate who studied outside of the UK?
Sponsoring this person as a Skilled Worker may still be a viable route, even if they do not hold suitable permission to switch to this visa in the UK. Instead, they may be eligible to apply from outside of the UK for entry clearance. This may also be relevant if the individual was sponsored for the degree that they studied in the UK.
You may also wish to consider the Youth Mobility Visa if the person you are looking to recruit is of an eligible nationality and between the specified age ranges. This will allow these individuals to be employed in the UK in most roles, for at least 24 months without the need for sponsorship.
For those individuals who studied at a ‘top’ university recognised on the current rankings of universities from around the world, the High Potential Individual visa may be a worthwhile consideration too. This route also does not require employer sponsorship.