In contrast with British PM Rishi Sunak‘s earlier stance on immigration, the United Kingdom government is now making it easier for foreign students to switch to a skilled worker visa before they graduate. This change comes amidst concerns that the UK Student Visa may be difficult to get in 2023.
The switch is made possible by the removal of the degree-level qualification from the list of requirements in the skilled worker visa application. According to reports, students who secure a job offer from an employer approved by the Home Office can apply for a switch from a student visa to a skilled worker visa without completing their degree. The latest policy change reflects the UK’s strategy to retain skilled professionals who come to study in the country.
Employers, especially care providers, have been leveraging this rule change to entice new hires by touting the possibility of switching their student visas for student worker visas.
Impact of the Policy Update
Yash Dubal, director of AY & J Solicitors, a visa and immigration consulting firm in London, says the policy update is intended to make it easier for international students to remain in the UK after graduation. He further stated that the rule change provides greater flexibility and opportunities for international students. It will attract more international students to the UK.
The rule change is generating a debate about the growing trend of non-completion of studies by international students. According to pre-pandemic figures from Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), more than 100 universities in the UK lose over £1 million in undergraduate tuition fees from students who drop out. More students are likely to drop out when immigration rules allow them to switch seamlessly from student to work visas even before they complete the degrees that they are registered for.
How to Switch from Student Visa to Work Visa
The student visa (including Tier 4 visa) in the UK can be switched to the Skilled Worker visa under certain conditions.
First of all, the applicant for the skilled worker visa on the date of application must not have or have last been granted permission to live in the UK as:
- As a visitor
- As a short-term student
- As a parent of a child student
- As a seasonal worker or domestic worker in a private household
- As immigration bail
- Outside immigration rules (residency on compassionate grounds)
Essentially, individuals on a short-term student visa cannot switch to a skilled worker visa in the UK.
The job offer must also meet these requirements:
- The job is eligible for a skilled worker visa. Before applying for the skilled worker visa, applicants should ensure to find out if their job is eligible using the ONS occupation coding tool.
- The employer is approved by the Home Office
- The employer is offering at least the minimum salary for that type of job. The minimum salary for the type of jobs that require skilled workers in the UK is either £25,600, £10.10 per hour, or the standard price for that type of job. If your salary is less than £25,600 but at least £20,480 per year and you don’t work in healthcare or education, you can also apply.
Application for the UK Skilled Worker visa comes at a cost that includes:
- The visa application fee ranges from £625 to £1423 depending on the situation.
- The health surcharge fee is £624 per year; and
- You need to prove you have at least £1,270 to support yourself if your employer cannot cover these costs.
If your student visa has expired, you can also apply for the skilled worker visa, this time as a new entrant. You will be considered a new entrant if:
- You are below the age of 26.
- Your student visa expired less than 2 years before the date of the application.
- In your previous student visa, you were sponsored to study for a UK bachelor’s degree; a UK master’s degree; a UK Ph.D. or other doctoral qualification; a Postgraduate Certificate in Education; or a Professional Graduate Diploma of Education.
Impact of Brexit on Migration
After the Brexit referendum in 2016, there was a drop in migration from EU countries and a rise in migration from non-EU countries. This accelerated during the COVID pandemic in 2020 as many EU nationals relocated back to their countries. The UK also recorded an all-time high in migration with about 504,000 migrants between January to June of 2022.
From January 1, 2021, the UK government introduced a new migration policy that ended free movement between the UK and the European Union, and countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). Meanwhile, changes in student visa rules, especially those allowing spouses of students to work, have attracted students from developing Commonwealth countries like Nigeria, India, and Pakistan.
The impact has been a double benefit for the UK. Despite claims about student dropping out, the influx of students has been a big boom for poorer UK universities and there has been a boost in the labour force in the UK. The consultancy, London Economics, has calculated that international students bring £29 billion into the UK economy every year.