Why you should hire international students
When recruiting international students into a business, the opportunities to access new markets can be very advantageous. They come from more than 126 countries around the world, have large social circles and are very determined to succeed. Here are some ways that international students have helped the business community:
- Providing experience and contacts to provide knowledge of worldwide business marketplaces.
- Identifying potential international market opportunities
- Using their language skills to communicate with overseas clientele and internationalize your marketing and website
- Putting prior business and research skills to good use to advance economic goals
- Providing scientific and technological experience, especially in the field of research and development
- Assisting with multicultural awareness and etiquette in the workplace
- Working flexibly during workload peaks and troughs
What are my hiring options under immigration law?
The full range of hiring options is detailed in the latest government guidance. We highlight here the two most relevant options for employers interested in recent international graduates applying for work from the UK.
This includes EU nationals unless they have successfully applied for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, which will give them the right to work in the UK.
1 – Hire without sponsoring for two or three years under the Graduate route
- No need to sponsor – international students apply to this unsponsored route themselves
- No employer fees to pay
- Trial opportunity – see how your new hire performs, before committing to sponsorship. If you wish to extend beyond the period of the Graduate route, as long as the job you are offering meets the requirements (and you are willing to become a sponsor, if you are not already), your employee can apply to switch to the Skilled Worker route. As well as allowing you to retain a valuable employee, this is more cost-effective than going back out into the job market to hire and train a new recruit. (Your employee can apply to switch to the Skilled Worker route at any point during the Graduate route period).
- Flexible – the Graduate route is ideal if you have a fixed-term project or if you aren’t yet sure of your longer-term requirements.
- Accessible to smaller employers, and the non-profit, creative and heritage sectors who may not always be able to meet the minimum salary requirements of the Skilled Worker route or who do not have a licence to sponsor Skilled Workers.
2 – Hire longer-term on the Skilled Worker route
The former Tier 2 visa has been replaced by the Skilled Worker visa, which offers more benefits to employers:
- More flexibility over skill level: you can sponsor jobs at or above the minimum skill level of RQF 3 (this is A-level or equivalent) – all graduates will meet this level. A much wider range of roles can therefore now be sponsored.
- No limit on the length of time which can be spent under the Skilled Worker route and no cooling-off period between a person’s Skilled Worker visa and they are next – giving you greater control over your staffing plans
- No cap on numbers and no Resident Labour Market Test – which has removed up to 8 weeks from time taken to sponsor a Skilled Worker compared with the previous system
- Lower salary commitment – the lower “new entrant” rate has been extended from three to four years3, making hiring international graduates more affordable
The person you wish to hire under the Skilled Worker visa must score 70 points. 50 are untradeable:
- 20 points if the job offer is from an approved sponsor
- 20 points if the job is on the list of eligible occupations (Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations)
- 10 points if their English Language is at least level B1 (graduates will have had to demonstrate at least this level to study here so will not need to take additional tests).
They must also score at least 20 points from a range of tradeable criteria, which include being a new entrant to the labour market.
What is a new entrant? What salary will I need to offer?
Graduates switching in the UK to the Skilled Worker route from either the Student route or the Graduate route are new entrants. (So are graduates under 26, or graduates applying less than 2 years after their student visa or Graduate route permission expired, including those applying from their home country).
The salary you offer new entrants must be at least £20,480, at least £10.10 per hour AND it must also meet 70% of the “going rate” for the job. You can look up the going rates and the relevant 70% rate in the Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations.
Fact check: Compare the rule
For some PhD level jobs, some applicants must obtain ATAS security clearance and the employer must confirm this on the Certificate of Sponsorship. For relevant jobs, subject areas and exempt nationalities, see Annex S1 of the sponsor guidance.
I already have a licence – what do I need to do?
Tier 2 (General) licences have automatically been replaced with new licences for Skilled workers, and unrestricted Tier 2 (General) Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) allocations will automatically be replaced with new CoS allocations.
I don’t have a licence – how do I get one?
Many more employers are now taking out a licence, as EU citizens also now fall under the new points-based immigration system unless they have settled or pre-settled status.
- Apply online – read the government guidance on becoming a sponsor
- Fees are £536 for small or charitable sponsors and £1,476 for medium or large sponsors (one-off, not annual. However, you will be required to pay a fee again when the licence is up for renewal. This usually happens every four years.)
- The government currently advises that most applications (8 out of 10) are dealt with in less than 8 weeks. You may be able to pay £500 to get a decision within 10 working days.
Answering your questions
Discrimination, permission to work and the Resident Labour Market Test
Is it discriminatory not to consider applications from international students? For example, is it OK for us to state on our website or in our recruitment process that all applicants must have permission to work in the UK?
It is illegal for employers to discriminate against international students: whilst the law requires employers to only employ individuals with a right to work in the UK it is unlawful not to accept applications from or employ someone on the basis of their nationality. Some exemptions apply (for example roles relating to national security), 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 (which is what happened in the case of Osborne Clarke Services v Purohit). Avoid possible claims of indirect race discrimination by instead:
- Accepting and considering applications from any candidates with suitable skills and experience, irrespective of their nationality
- Using statements such as: “the successful candidate must by the start of their employment have permission to work in the UK”
- Only seeking evidence that someone has the right to work in the final stages of the recruitment process, rather than at the initial application stage.
Does this mean if we are advertising a job that meets the requirements to be sponsored under the Skilled Worker route, we should be prepared to sponsor successful candidates – even if we are not a current licence holder?
Many employers recruit graduates far enough in advance to be able to factor in the timescales for applying for a licence, which usually takes around 8 weeks. It can take longer if UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) conduct a visit to review your HR practices and understanding of sponsor obligations. It’s important to take advice and ensure you are able to pass UKVI’s checks prior to submitting your application.
Will we have to apply the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) if we want to hire under either the Graduate route or the Skilled Worker route?
No – the Resident Labour Market Test, which for a Tier 2 application required employers to show there was no suitable EEA (including British) candidate who can take the proposed role, has been abolished for all types of Skilled Worker applications. This applies whether the graduate is applying from inside the UK, or outside. However, the UKVI caseworker must have no reason to believe that the job does not exist, is a sham, has been created mainly for the immigration application, or amounts to work for a third party who is not the sponsor.
Does the time period grant under the Graduate route start from a graduate’s previous visa expiration date or from day 1 at their new employer?
It starts from when their Graduate route application is granted.
Can I hire an international graduate for a permanent job (or a graduate scheme exceeding the Graduate route duration) under the Graduate route?
Yes. You can start hiring them under the Graduate route and at any point during your employee’s stay under that route they can apply to switch to the Skilled Worker route, as long as the job meets the necessary requirements. Alternatively, if the job meets the requirements, you could also choose to hire the graduate under the Skilled Worker route right away – in which case they can apply to switch straight from their Student visa to the Skilled Worker route.
The Graduate route is non-extendable, so once your employee’s application has expired, they will need to switch to the Skilled Worker route in order to stay in the UK.
Note that requiring applicants to have a permanent right to work in the UK would not be in line with government guidance, which states: “Job applicants should not be treated less favourably if they produce acceptable documents showing a time-limited right to work in the UK” (Avoiding Unlawful Discrimination While Preventing Illegal Working, May 2014).
What if after the Graduate route period has finished, I want to keep employing my hire, but I’m unable to offer sponsorship because the job doesn’t meet the salary requirements?
At the end of their time on the Graduate route, employees will still be “new entrants.” As your staff member will have gained valuable skills and experience during their time with you, it is likely that their remuneration will meet the discounted rate of 70% of the role’s SOC code, £10.10 per hour or £20,480 whichever is higher.
However, if that is not the case, subject to the prevailing Immigration Rules on switching from the Graduate route and if the role was suitable, you could explore the possibility of sponsorship (potentially for two years) under the government authorised exchange scheme, which has flexible salary requirements. The role must be supernumerary or in excess of ordinary staffing requirements. An overarching body sponsors your hire, and you just need to comply with their terms. If you are really unable to offer continued employment, you will still have benefitted from your international graduate’s rich skillset whilst they were with you. It is worth bearing in mind that a domestic graduate might be looking to move on by that point anyway, as there is naturally a lot of movement in the early stages of a career.
Skilled Worker route
When can graduates apply for their Skilled Worker visas? Do I need to wait until they have passed their course?
You do not need to wait until they have passed their course. Graduates seeking to apply as new entrants can apply up to three months before they have completed their courses provided you have assigned them a Certificate of Sponsorship. If you are employing a graduate before their result is out, you will need confirmation from the provider of the course the student has been taking and the expected date of completion. You can sponsor a PhD student before they have completed their degree if they have done at least 12 months of their course. If they are not applying as a new entrant, students can apply at any time.
Can the graduate start the graduate job before they get their Skilled Worker visa?
If the student qualifies for sponsorship from you under the Skilled Worker route and has submitted their Skilled Worker application to the Home Office, in most cases, they are eligible to start the permanent graduate role immediately, as long as they are within 3 months of completing a full-time course of study at degree level or above with a higher education provider with a track record of compliance.
Whilst in theory the student could apply for the Graduate route to bridge any gap between their student visa expiring and the Skilled Worker application being submitted, they would have to pay an application fee of £700 and the Immigration Health Surcharge so this scenario is best avoided.
What are the implications if my candidate is applying from outside the UK?
What costs do I need to pay to hire under the Skilled Worker route?
See our Fact check: Compare the routes table above. In addition, some employers offer to cover or contribute to their graduate candidates’ costs, but this is your choice. These costs include:
- A visa fee, which ranges from £464 to £1408 depending on whether the graduate is applying from within or outside the UK, whether the job is in a shortage occupation, and if they are applying to be in the UK for up to or more than 3 years.
- The Immigration Health Surcharge – usually £624 per year
- A biometric information fee is £19.20 and sometimes a visa application centre fee can be in the region of £260
Useful sources of information and support
- The Home Office UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) provides a specialist support service for employers who want to check whether a person can work legally in the UK: gov.UK/check-job-applicant-right-to-work. They also run a sponsorship helpline
- Find advisors accredited by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner or immigration solicitors regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.
- UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) provides information on immigration routes for international students and graduates to remain in the UK to work.
- Careers services and student visa services. It is always worth checking with your potential recruit what level of support they can access as it is, of course, in everyone’s interests that their application is not rejected for an avoidable reason.
The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS)
Association of Colleges (AoC)
The British Universities’ International Liaison Association (BUILA)
Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
Independent Higher Education
Institute of Directors (IoD)
Institute of Student Employers (ISE)
National Association of Student Employment Services (NASES)
National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB)
Prospects / Jisc
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)
Universities UK International (UUKi)