New visas for international students explained

Feb 3, 2021 | Sector & policy

Employers need to be aware of the new legislation for international students, explains ISE’s Stephen Isherwood.

Whilst it is difficult to determine exactly how many international students are currently studying at a UK university, in 2019 the figure was 485,600 – 143,000 from the EU and 343,000 from elsewhere. Many apply for internships and graduate programmes.

The visa rules and regulations have recently changed and, post Brexit, all EU students (except those from Ireland) also need a visa to work in the UK.

This will be explored in detail in the ISE Workshop – Immigration visas for international students explained on 11 March where you can gain a better understanding of the legislation. This half-day course will deliver practical advice on the policies and procedures you need to have in place, and work through a number of case study scenarios. In the meantime, here’s a summary:


Don’t discriminate

Firstly, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against international students. Many still ask, ‘do I need to accept applications from international students?’ Yes, is the short answer.

Some exemptions apply, but in general employers that refuse to accept applications from people just because they may need a visa could be open to claims of discrimination.


Student Visas for interns

If you hire international students for an internship, placement or work experience whilst they are studying in the UK, it’s the Student Visa (what was the Tier-4 visa) you need to know about. International students can:

  • Work for up to 20 hours per week during term-time or full-time during official vacation periods
  • Work full-time on a placement that is an assessed and integral part of a study programmes

The Student Visa only applies to those over 16 on a course by a licensed student sponsor who meets all the visa requirements and only for the duration of the course.

If you are hiring an international student after they have graduated there are two routes most used by employers.

  • Sponsoring employers can apply for Skilled Worker Visa (The old Tier-2 visa)
  • Graduating students can work for two years under the new Graduate Immigration route


The Skilled Worker Visa

This route is designed to facilitate entry of skilled workers into the UK.

First some good news. The government has reduced some of the visa bureaucracy: the resident labour market test has been removed as has the quota regime. And students from the Republic of Ireland remain fully exempt from the new visa rules.

But, post-Brexit, EEA students no longer have the automatic right to work in the UK on graduation and need a visa. In summary, there are three areas of compliance:

  1. You need to become a sponsor employer and comply with a sponsor’s associated practices and processes.
  2. You can only sponsor a worker if your role is a genuine vacancy that meets the skilled role definitions and the salary threshold (£25,600 which is further reduced for graduates).
  3. Graduates will need to have an eligible offer of employment before they are eligible for the Skilled Worker Visa.


Graduate Immigration Route

From summer 2021, this new route allows international graduates to work for two-years post-qualification. Full details are still to be announced by the government.

The key difference between this and the skilled worker route is that the visa is a personal one – the employer doesn’t apply for it on behalf of the student. But be aware that after two years, those on this visa will need to get the Skilled Worker Visa if they are to stay in the UK.

Join our ISE Workshop – Immigration visas for international students explained on 11 March.

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