UK: Visa Route For Graduates Seeking Work Forthcoming

Last Updated: 13 September 2019
Article by Fragomen  

At a Glance

  • The UK Prime Minister has announced plans to allow international graduates to stay and find work in the United Kingdom for up to two years after graduation under a new visa that is reportedly expected to apply for students starting in the academic year 2020/2021.
  • Eligible students must have successfully completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider.
  • During the two-year period, graduates will be able to apply for any role and will not be restricted by skill level or salary threshold, whereas currently graduates only have four months to find a role suitable for Tier 2 (General) Visa sponsorship.
  • Employers will also benefit from being able to hire skilled graduates who may not otherwise be able to meet the requirements for a Tier 2 (General) visa immediately upon graduation, whereas currently graduates cannot be offered a permanent role unless they can switch to a Tier 2 (General) or other visa.
  • The policy change follows the announcement of a new Global Talent Visa earlier this year, in response to growing concerns that the science, technology, engineering and math sectors will be disproportionately impacted in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The situation

The Prime Minister has announced plans to introduce a Graduate Route to enable international students who have successfully completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider to work in the United Kingdom for up to two years post-graduation, as part of the government's aim to attract talent to the country.

A closer look

  • Two-year post-study work period. The Graduate Route will allow international graduates in any subject to stay in the United Kingdom for two years after graduation to find work, whereas currently graduates only have up to four months to find a suitable role.
  • Requirements. Eligible students must have successfully completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider with a proven track record of upholding immigration checks and UK immigration rules. They will not be subject to a visa cap or quota.
  • Time frame. The new route is reportedly expected to apply for students starting in the academic year 2020/2021, therefore the first visa applications under the category are expected in 2023 at the earliest unless the government later announces that students who are currently enrolled on qualifying degree courses will also be able to benefit.

Impact

  • Relaxed rules. The two-year period will allow international students more time and flexibility to build up their skill level and find a permanent role in the United Kingdom. During this time, they will be benefit from relaxed rules and be able to apply for any role regardless of skill level without the need to meet Tier 2 (General) requirements such as salary requirements, whereas currently they only have four months to find a role suitable under the Tier 2 (General) category, which is subject to minimum salary and skills thresholds.
  • Labor market access. Employers will benefit from an increased number of available skilled graduates who may otherwise be unable to meet the salary and skills threshold required by the Tier 2 (General) requirements whereas currently graduates only have four months after graduation to find a role suitable for Tier 2 sponsorship and therefore cannot be offered a permanent role unless they can switch to a Tier 2 (General) or other visa.
  • STEM focus. While the new route will be available to graduates in all subjects, the route may benefit graduates in the science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and similar sectors in particular, who often undertake lower paid work experience before they can obtain a suitable skilled role which meets the requirements for a Tier 2 (General) visa.

Background

  • Previous post study work route. The Graduate Route has been announced as a new immigration path to attract talent, particularly in the STEM sector. However, the route is a return to the previous post-study work visa which was closed by the then-Home Secretary in 2012 to meet her net immigration target and due to her perception that the route was too generous and open to abuse.
  • Ongoing focus on STEM. The policy change follows the announcement of a new Global Talent Visa earlier this year which was also aimed at recruiting the 'brightest and the best' talent across the world in the STEM sector, in response to growing concerns that this sector will be disproportionately impacted in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
  • Departure from previous migration policies. The current UK government is dropping the commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands and focusing instead on attracting the skills required in the UK labor market. However, the government is combining this more liberal approach with increased border controls and criminality checks. For example, it intends to impose stricter border controls for serious criminals seeking to enter the United Kingdom in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Looking ahead

  • Strict enforcement likely. The previous post-study work route was closed in 2012 following concerns that the route was open to widescale abuse by unscrupulous colleges and employers. If similar concerns arise from this route, increased enforcement controls and compliance obligations are likely be introduced in the future, through the potential for abuse is likely to be reduced in the first instance by the requirement that eligible students must have completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider with a proven track record of upholding immigration checks and UK immigration rules. Course providers should expect a high degree of scrutiny and strict penalties for noncompliance under this route.
  • Ongoing MAC review. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is currently reviewing the Australian immigration system and is due to report back in 2020. Among other factors, the MAC will consider if additional points should be granted for migrants with specific attributes including education level and desirable skills. If the MAC recommends additional points should be awarded for UK graduates or for STEM skills, further beneficial rules may be introduced for graduates in the new immigration system from 2021.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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