Switching to a UK Tier 2 visa to be made easier for Tier 4 Visa international graduates

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New government plans will make it easier for foreign students in the UK to apply to switch from within the UK from a Tier 4 visa to a Tier 2 skilled worker visa once they complete their course, rather than having to wait until they have confirmation that they have passed their exams. The plans, outlined in Budget documents published on 22 November 2017, are an effort to ‘make Britain more welcoming.’ However, the employer needs to have a Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence to employ students under the Tier 2 Visa scheme.

Sanwar Ali workpermit.com Comment:

After 29 March 2019 when Brexit is due to occur it will most likely be more difficult for newly arriving EEA nationals to work in the UK. Therefore, it is likely that there will be an increase in demand for skilled workers from overseas. Making it easier to employ overseas students on tier 2 visas will benefit both employers and tier 4 student visa holders. From Spring 2018 it seems that Tier 4 students will no longer have to show that they have passed their exams before being able to switch to a Tier 2 visa.

Ever since the end of the Tier 1 Post Study Work visa scheme on 6 April 2012 it has been much more difficult for University students on Tier 4 visas to remain in the UK and work. The Tier 2 visa scheme is a difficult and bureaucratic system to navigate. Tier 4 students who cannot switch from a Tier 4 visa to a Tier 2 visa will usually need to come under significantly more difficult requirements.

Currently many Tier 4 students are unable to switch to a Tier 2 General visa because they have not passed their degree yet and their Tier 4 visa will expire before they will have the opportunity to apply for a tier 2 visa. In such a situation to obtain a Tier 2 visa, employers with a Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence need to complete the resident labour market test, and wait twenty eight days to show that they cannot find someone from the resident labour market to do the job. Then the employer needs to obtain a Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship which can take more than a month to obtain and is more difficult to obtain than an Unrestricted Certificate of Sponsorship (required for switching from a Tier 4 visa to a Tier 2 visa).

The employer may also have to pay the higher experienced worker rate which in practice is at least £30,000 a year and pay the immigration skills charge of at least £364 a year (£1,000 a year for larger employers), Then at the end of the process the Tier 4 Visa Student will need to go back to their home Country to be able to apply for a Tier 2 visa.

According to senior figures across Britain’s education sector, the Home Office – which appears to be adopting new tactics to tackle the international student issue under Home Secretary, Amber Rudd – is planning to extend a pilot scheme that eased visa rules for students applying to master’s courses at the universities of Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, and Imperial College London.

However, crucial issues surrounding the UK’s post-Brexit treatment of European Union researchers, graduate workers and students currently remain unsolved in the government’s UK immigration bill.

The official Autumn Budget, 2017 - published by the Treasury Department - states that the government will “alter UK immigration rules to enable world-leading scientists and researchers - endorsed under the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route - to apply for settlement after three years.”

“It will be made quicker for highly skilled students to apply to work in the UK after finishing their degrees; and reduce red tape in hiring international researchers and members of established research teams, by relaxing the labour market test and allowing the UK’s research councils and other select organisations to sponsor researchers,” the Budget states.

Switching from a Tier 4 Visa to a Tier 2 Visa

The relaxed rules will pave the way for international students to switch to a Tier 2 skilled worker visa as soon as their studies are complete. Under current legislation, students have to wait until they can show that they have passed.

It’s understood that this change has come as a result of universities telling the Home Office that existing rules cause considerable difficulties for master’s students, who are often forced to wait several months upon completion of their course for a degree to be awarded.

Meanwhile, changes to the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa, will see two years shaved off the current five-year waiting time to meet the qualifying criteria for UK settlement that is a requirement of this scheme. The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) initiative targets ‘existing global leaders or promising future leaders,’ across a range of industry sectors.

The changes to the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route follow an announcement that the annual number of visas for this scheme would be doubled from 1,000 to 2,000.

The new legislation outlining changes to UK immigration rules in the Autumn Budget are set to be introduced in the spring of 2018.

Positive changes for international staff recruitment

A Universities UK statement welcomed the changes, describing them as ‘positive for both the recruitment of staff and making it quicker for students to switch into post-study work.’

“In the months ahead, we would like to see the government go further and commit to a strategy for growing international student numbers,” the statement said.

Elsewhere, according to an article published by Times Higher Education, different UK sectors may take a different view on the immigration White Paper, questioning whether it is enough to take a ‘light touch’ approach to EU nationals in the Tier 2 skilled worker and Tier 4 student visa systems, or better to lobby for some alternative system for EU nationals.

Tier 2 visa rules dictate that employers must hold a valid Tier 2 sponsor licence and adhere to the system’s salary threshold. According to recruiters, both these requirements will undoubtedly scupper any chance of EU students remaining in the UK to work, following graduation.

Settled status of EU nationals in Britain post-Brexit

Chief executive of the MillionPlus mission group, Pam Tatlow, said: “We welcome the interest of the Home Office and the government in improving the visa regulations for students, early career graduates and staff. However, the more pressing issue is reconciling issues around settled status of EU nationals in the UK at the time of Brexit.”

“Achieving a system that supports continuing mobility between the UK and the EU…This is why the Home Office needs to publish the White Paper, which would precede the immigration bill, as soon as possible,” Tatlow added.

Workpermit.com can help with Tier 2 Visa Sponsorship Licences and Tier 2 Visas

If you need help with a Tier 2 visa, or a Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence, including help with complying with your Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence obligations workpermit.com can help. More and more employers are facing sudden unannounced onsite inspections. Contact us for a copy of our free Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence Compliance guide.

For more information and advice on UK immigration law and UK visa applications please contact us on 0344 991 9222 or at london@workpermit.com