Education law expert Trish D’Souza and business immigration specialist Alex Christen, both lawyers at Cardiff and London-based law firm, Capital Law, discuss the UK’s new Points-Based Immigration System and its impact on international students. 

The new Point-Based Immigration System was announced on December 1, 2020. Ever since, it kept creating uncertainties and hardships for many foreign nationals currently living in the UK or those who may have had ambitions to live in the UK. For international students, though, the future is looking bright.

Before the new Points-Based Immigration System, international students from outside the EU would attend university or Higher Education in the UK, graduate, and then only have four months to find employment with an employer prepared to sponsor them. Not only were international students under immense pressure to find graduate employment right away, but the employment had to be of a high skill and salary threshold. If international graduates were unable to find such employment, they were likely to return to their home countries.

The new Graduate Route (announced in September 2019 but with full details yet to be released) now gives international students what could be looked at as a grace period of two or three years. Rather than having to frantically look for employment after graduation, international students will now be able to work at any skill level without a sponsor for up to two years (or three for PhD graduates). Under this new route, anyone who graduates in the summer of 2021 and who has a valid Tier 4 (General) Student Visa, will be able to apply for a Graduate Visa, making it much easier for international graduates to remain in the UK. This includes EU students who started their study from January 1, 2021 and do not already have settled or pre-settled status. As the pandemic has greatly disrupted studies, the government has confirmed that anyone who is studying by distance or blended learning will still be eligible to apply for the Graduate Visa provided they are in the UK by April 6, 2021.

This new visa route is designed for international graduates to find their ‘dream job’, without complying with the more stringent requirements of the new immigration system. It is only after two or three years on the Graduate Visa that those who wish to stay in the UK under the Skilled Worker category will need to adhere to the strict constraints – where skill level and salary is decided based on the person’s employment in a particular industry and an employer sponsor is required. This means that as well as alleviating stress for graduates, the new Graduate Visa also allows employers to tap into the newly qualified talent pool during those two or three years without committing to sponsorship.

What does being a sponsor entail?

To become a sponsor, an employer must apply for a sponsor license and be prepared to undertake a significant amount of paperwork and preparation. They will also have to pay a license fee (of either £536 – £1,476 depending on the size of the company) and to retain a certificate of sponsorship for each sponsored worker of £199 per certificate. There is also the immigration skills charge of up to £1,000 per sponsored worker per year. In addition to the fees, companies must adhere to strict monitoring and reporting guidelines, with sanctions from the Home Office if they are broken including the loss of their licence and any sponsored workers. This has historically limited employment options for international graduates because many companies have not been willing to become a sponsor due to the long and costly process involved.

Inevitably, sponsorship will occur once the Graduate Visa has run its course of two or three years, but the removal of the administration and financial burden for employers to hire brand new graduates, will foster a strong relationship from the very beginning which is not solely based on a transaction to remain in the UK. Hiring international graduates will not only diversify the employment pool but will provide a different perspective and awareness of international markets, particularly in sectors where this outlook may be crucial. It could also be said that international graduates have a willingness to challenge themselves by working and living in a different country and in many cases, developing qualities of independence and resilience that their domestic counterparts may not necessarily possess. This new visa route will demonstrate that international graduates, just like UK residents, thrive best in careers that align with personal and professional goals, rather than having to meet a required skill set and salary threshold.

Let’s face it. Employees who thrive in their careers are happier, typically care more about the company they work for, are loyal, think outside the box and positively hype up those around them. Having someone in your business who actively contributes to the culture of your workplace in a constructive way, especially during a time where work culture is ever changing due to the pandemic, is more important than ever.

The Graduate Visa is very positive news for both international students studying and graduating in the UK, and the UK itself, ensuring young people have a fair ticket to start their careers and thrive in the country.

This article represents the opinion of guest contributors, who are proven specialists in the industrial sphere of the topic discussed. It does not represent the opinions of Roar’s members.

Trish D’Souza
Alex Christen

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