UK: More students switching to skilled worker visa on arrival

Published 30/11/2022

Stakeholders in the UK sector are reporting increasing numbers of international students dropping out soon after enrolment in order to accept employment offers in the care sector.

Changes to the skilled worker visa system mean that applicants are no longer required to hold a degree level qualification to apply.

Students who can secure a job offer from an employer approved by the home office, can then apply to switch from the student route visa to the skilled worker visa immediately, without any need to complete their degree.

The PIE News has discovered a growing trend of overseas immigration consultants using universities as a stepping stone to help clients enter the UK then switch to care jobs before they are required to pay full tuition fees.

This route offers a cheaper and faster pathway to full time employment in the UK compared to the graduate route – which requires students to pay expensive course fees and maintenance for the duration of their course, before entering the jobs market.

While this is a completely legitimate immigration pathway, it will play havoc with university finances as it canabalises the international student population before they graduate.

Non-continuation costs the UK higher education sector more than £300 million per year, and more than 100 universities are losing more than £1m annually in undergraduate tuition fees alone from students who drop out according to pre-pandemic HESA data.

Lexan Law promoting the opportunity on social media state, “attention all international students! New vacancies for care workers and health professionals in the UK with instant job placement. The only thing needed is for you to switch your visa with the skilled worker visa.”

Another consultant IIaahi Law Firm, celebrate the ease of processing the transfer, stating “another success of student switch study visa into tier 2 worker permit successfully in just a very short time.”

A potential student responds asking, “my brother successfully got sponsorship under care home tier-2 visa. He just came [for] 10 weeks [at university] in the UK before switching to tier-2 care assistant under reputed company without any hassle. Can you tell me how?”

The skilled worker visa, previously known as the Tier 2 visa, was redesigned to make applications smoother including a lowering of the salary threshold and the removal of the resident labour market test. If approved, candidates can work in the UK for up to five years before applying to extend their visa or apply for permanent residency.

Chris Sharpe, director of international at University College Birmingham, said, “we are seeing a growing number of students transfer to Tier 2 [skilled worker visa]. We have seen a number from September intake [do this] already, there are certainly more students arriving in the UK and then quickly transitioning.

“It is something that is on our radar, and subsequently we’re putting more steps in place to try and mitigate this within our credibility interviews and also our compliance policies.

“We do try and ask students what their plans are if they decide to leave UCB, but often they become very disengaged by this stage [so it is hard to track their next steps]. We keep an eye on the early indicators, such as their location and also attendance to intercept students who are not active as early as possible,” he explained.

While the latest immigration statistics do not state how many people switched visa route, they do show a 179% increase in skilled worker visas granted in human health and social care activities in Q3 year-on-year. Successful recipients grew from 7,711 in Q3 2021 to 21,543 in Q3 2022.

This period correlates to the main autumn university intake in the UK and shows the biggest spike of skilled worker visas granted in the year.

There is also a correlation to the January intake with +67% increase year on year in Q1 with 11,139 visas granted in 2022. These numbers exclude applicants who have applied to extend an existing visa.

The home office currently advises an eleven-week average wait time to get a decision on skilled worker visas due to high demand.

“There are certainly more students arriving in the UK and then quickly transitioning”

For essential service sectors such as healthcare, that have been hit with labour shortages since Brexit, employing international students already in the UK is a way to fill the gap.

Government instructions on how to switch to the skilled worker visa state, “you might be able to apply to change (‘switch’) to a skilled worker visa if you’re already in the UK on a different type of visa.

“You must meet the following requirements – your job meets the eligibility requirements; [and] you can speak, read, write and understand English.

“You’ll usually need to be paid at least £25,600 per year or £10.10 per hour, whichever is higher. There are different salary rules if you work in some healthcare jobs, where the going rate is based on national pay scales,” the instructions add.

Higher education leaders may be puzzled by increasing drop-out rates from international applicants, often looking internally to service standards, agent networks or student support for answers.

Very few will have identified the ease that students can move to full-time employment so soon into their university life.

At the time of writing the University of Warwick website states that students planning to switch to the skilled worker visa “must have completed (or be applying no more than 3 months before they are expected to complete) the course” but this advice would appear to be no longer be valid.

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