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Will Student Visa Changes Threaten Skilled Worker Applications?

Posted By Rove Legal in Immigration
Will Student Visa Changes Threaten Skilled Worker Applications?

Will Student Visa Changes Threaten Skilled Worker Applications?

Recent updates introduced to the immigration rules mean that from January 2024, there are two major changes to the Student Visa route, which will affect their ability to bring family members with them as well as switching to a Skilled Worker route.  

The Home Office found that in the year ending March 2023, of all the sponsored study visas granted (480,000), 24% of them were given to dependants of students (children and spouses), primarily from India and Nigeria. This equated to 149,400 student dependants coming to the UK, compared to 72,062 the year before. As such, the government plans to impose restrictions on the ability of international students to bring dependant family members in an effort to try and cut down on the number of people coming into the country. 

The government was also concerned that a significant number of students were switching to a Skilled Worker visa prior to completing their studies and therefore using student visas as a “backdoor” route into working in the UK.

In this article, we will discuss the potential impact that the latest government announcement will have on international students coming to the UK. 

Why Has There Been an Increase in the Number of International Students?

The rise in the number of main applicant students coming to the UK over the past year has also increased the number of dependants. Evidence suggests that one key reason for the influx of international students is the delay in travelling to the UK since the pandemic. Many students deferred their studies until it was safe to come. Higher Education Statistics Agency findings show that the overall number of international students studying in the country rose by 9% during the pandemic. Another contributing factor is Brexit. EU students now need to apply for a student visa to study in the UK, which in itself has caused a 12% increase in the number of international students.

Recent migration statistics show that Skilled Worker and Health and Care Worker visas were the most popular visas to be granted in 2022 of all the working routes (54%). Whilst we do not have clear statistics on the exact number of Skilled Worker visas that were granted to those switching from the Student Visa, interestingly enough, the government found that Indian nationals were the top nationality of those given sponsored work visas in 2022. Indian nationals also made up the highest number of people who were granted study visas in 2022, a total of 139,539. There could be a correlation between the two figures. Chinese and Indian students combined amounted to 50% of all sponsored study grants.

What Are the Proposed Restrictions on Student Visas?

From January 2024, the government proposes to cut net migration by stopping students from bringing their dependant family members unless they are studying a post-graduate research-related course. 

The government has said that it will work with higher education institutions to ensure that the brightest students who plan to study at world-leading universities aren’t prevented from doing so by allowing them to bring their dependant family members.

Additionally, in an attempt to “prevent misuse of the visa system,” international students will no longer be able to switch to a Skilled Worker visa until they have fully completed their course.

We welcome this change even though findings made by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) dispute that there is a misuse on this front, with evidence suggesting that students tend to stay until the end of their studies. However, the ONS admit that their estimates are “experimental and provisional”. 

What Does This Mean for Skilled Worker Applications?

These restrictions will more than likely make prospective international students think and question whether the UK is the right destination for their studies. Especially women who may be less inclined to leave their children behind. They are likely to look to study in other countries such as Australia which is considering amending immigration laws to try and retain more students to help the economy. 

At the moment, those on student visas and dependant visa holders are both able to switch to Skilled Worker visas from within the UK, unless they are on a short-term student visa. Students and their dependant family members are generally able to find work shortly after arrival and some are able to find sponsors before they have completed their studies. The current immigration rules allow people to switch to the Skilled Worker route at any point during their studies unless they are applying as ‘new entrants’ in which case they need to wait until 3 months before their course ends. 

If you’re interested in hiring skilled workers, you may want to review our Sponsor Licence Application Guide.

This means that people can use student visas as a stepping stone to finding work in the UK which the government is trying to prevent. The government would ideally like students to be completing their studies and returning after completion unless they find highly skilled roles. It is normally more difficult to apply for a role from outside the UK and obtain sponsorship than it would be to find a role once in the UK. This is because individuals are able to seek work, network, and meet people more easily whilst in the country. 

The reality, however, is that following Brexit, the UK is facing a labour shortage in a number of industries which is why the rules were eased to allow this to happen. As a result, more occupations are being added to the Shortage Occupation List. The Shortage Occupation List affords workers less restrictive requirements, including a lower salary threshold to meet labour demand. 

The changes are likely to generally cut down on the number of students coming to the UK altogether which will inevitably have a knock-on effect for Skilled Worker applications, but students who complete their studies and are able to find work will still be able to apply under the Skilled Worker route. We also can’t forget about the Graduate Visa route which has made it much easier for students to find work and remain in the UK after their course. 

Overall, it is unlikely that the recent Student Visa changes will seriously affect Skilled Worker visa applications. 

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