Last week the UK Government announced its attempts to “substantially cut net migration” through planned reforms to the student visa route.
We analyse what this means for students and the employers looking to sponsor them.
The Government’s announcement that the student visa route would be reformed to prevent abuses came as a bit of a surprise last week. The category has often been a bone of contention for the Government – often recognised as a way to help the economy, while posing a challenge to its remit to bring down net migration. The proposed changes, which will affect international students starting in January 2024, have been announced as its way to tackle what it deems as attempts to find a “backdoor route to work in the UK”, while still ensuring a boost to the UK economy.
Historically international students have been responsible for doing just that – helping to prop up the economy by paying a higher level of tuition fees, with associated visa costs. However, student numbers took a noticeable nosedive after the removal of the Post Study Worker visa in 2012, with many applicants preferring to study elsewhere as finding employment soon after their studies became more and more difficult. But things seemed to improve for their employment prospects in 2021, when the Graduate visa was introduced. This allowed them to gain non-sponsored work on completion of their studies for a maximum of two years for graduates of a bachelor’s or master’s degree or three years for PhD graduates, bridging the gap between their student visa and sponsored work, or a decision to return home. While the Government has stated that the Graduate route remains unaffected, it has announced significant changes that will have a likely impact on new international applicants hoping to study in the UK and potential employers of students.
One of the most significant changes announced was that students will need to complete their studies before they can apply for a worker route. Currently students, who hold a student visa, are able to switch to the Skilled Worker sponsored worker route at any stage. However, they may only benefit from tradeable points on a new entrant salary if they have completed or are due to complete their studies. Prior to this however, they had to evidence completing their studies first so it appears the Government has done a U-turn on this. Whether the Government will consider increasing the duration of a student visa to allow for time to gain sponsorship after they have graduated remains unclear at this stage.
Further, for new applicants looking to study in the UK, there will be a higher financial impact, with the Government reviewing the level of maintenance funds required when applying for a visa. In most instances, international students must evidence having funds to cover tuition fees each year as well as maintenance funds of £1,344 per month up to nine months for courses in London or £1,023 per month outside of London. While the plans do not state how much will be required, it is likely to be a significant increase in an attempt to, as the Government states, “clamp down on unscrupulous international student agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications”.
An additional change, which the Government appears to still be toying with, relates to dependant family members, with the announcement that only students on postgraduate courses, designated as research programmes, will be eligible to bring dependant family members, such as a spouses, civil or unmarried partners, and dependant children under the age of 18. Yet the Government announced it would work with the Higher Education sector to explore alternative options for “the brightest and the best students”, to bring their dependants, indicating that this rule will not apply to all international students.
We will continue to monitor the Home Office’s announcements regarding the changes and will provide updates when they are made.
Article by Rhona Azir, Immigration Solicitor