New student visa changes, which came into effect on 17 July, that curtail the ability of international students to effortlessly switch to work visas before completing their studies, could have a devastating impact on UK employers, according to Mandie Sewa, Head of Immigration at Brevis Law.
Students who are undertaking courses at degree level or above will still be able to apply for work before their course has been completed; however, their employment start date must not be before their course completion.
The change applies to all skilled worker roles, including those on the shortage occupation list, where UK employers are desperate to recruit. Immigration Rule changes are usually published at least 21 days before they are implemented, however the changes to student switching were made with immediate effect to prevent an ‘influx’ surge of applications. From 1 January 2024 only students on postgraduate courses will be able to bring their immediate family members with them.
Ms Sewa, who has practiced in the field of immigration, nationality, and human rights law for 20 years, says that employment will be more cumbersome for students as a result.
She added: “This predicament will no doubt lead to a dearth of skilled workers in sectors such as technology and healthcare.”
Beyond the realm of employers and the economy, UK universities could also bear the brunt of these changes. International students accounted for 22.0% of the total student population in 2020-21. Ms Sewa expresses concerns that the modifications could hinder universities’ efforts to attract the brightest minds from around the world, especially if they are prohibited from bringing family members with them to the UK, potentially denting the UK’s reputation as a welcoming destination for international students.
While the government has justified these reforms as necessary to prevent abuse of the student visa system, Ms Sewa argues that: “The adverse effects on employers and universities would far outweigh any potential benefits in controlling net migration.
“The government must reconsider these changes urgently, as many employers rely on international students and their dependents to fill several roles, and the new rules will make it considerably harder for them to do so. They are simply not in the best interests of businesses that rely on international talent.”
Ms Sewa’s experience ranges from working with individuals in their personal immigration matters, to advising companies about corporate issues such as the prevention of illegal working and sponsor licensing.
She is currently supporting one individual who is considering applying for a sponsor licence. He runs a convenience store in a rural English village. The store is the hub of the community and is providing much needed local services. Despite all the advertising he has struggled to recruit for a management role. He recently employed an international student who met all of the criteria required for the role, however the implementation of the new changes means that the student will be required to leave the UK and apply to return. This will create additional costs and delays to both the candidate and the employer.
The employer said: “We have been trying to recruit a Manager role for quite a while now, so we can expand the business, service other areas of the community and employ local people in more low-level roles. We’ve tried several mediums with no luck. We recently found an international student who had the right experience, was hard working and really wanted to do the job. He can’t work full time on his Student visa (even though he only has to go to college for two days a week) so wanted to switch to a Skilled Worker. If we employ him now, we will need to wait for him to go back home, apply for entry clearance and come back. This adds on considerable costs for a small business-like ours.”
Ms Sewa’s first piece of advice to UK employers in similar situations would be to ensure the candidate meets all of the requirements of the Immigration Rules. The worst scenario for a business would be to go down the entry clearance route and risk a refusal, as this can have implications for e-entry to the UK. Her second bit of advice would be to be prepared for the increased costs and delays that are likely to be encountered because of this recent change in the rules.