As an international student in the UK, you may be interested to know that a new policy note from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has revealed that over 25% of employers are unaware of the UK’s Graduate Route Visa. This visa allows international students to work without a sponsor for up to two years after graduation.
In a survey conducted by HEPI in partnership with Kaplan, it was found that only 3% of respondents had used the scheme or were in the process of using it for the first time. This is despite a severe labor shortage in the UK, with 75% of businesses reporting that they had been impacted.
HEPI’s director, Nick Hillman, emphasized that international students already in the UK could help fill widespread skills shortages across the public and private sectors. He expressed surprise that so few employers had used the Graduate Route, which he described as an excellent way to recruit highly skilled staff.
Hillman also commented that while it is important for those in power to ensure that the visa system is trusted and robust, any attempt to tighten the current working rights of former international students would hamper economic growth. He suggested that it would make more sense to increase their rights rather than restrict them.
Between Q3 2021 and Q3 2022, 83,486 Graduate Route visas were granted, which is broadly in line with government forecasts. Linda Cowan, managing director for Kaplan International Pathways, agreed with Hillman and highlighted the significant financial and tax benefits that international students bring to the UK.
The Graduate Route is unique among employment-related visa schemes because it is free for employers, involves no bureaucracy, and allows employers to evaluate an international graduate for two or three years before making a longer commitment. However, the lack of awareness among employers could be hindering the initiative’s success.
Respondents who elaborated on their use or lack of use of the scheme cited reasons such as uncertainty about the new scheme and the need for quality control. Some respondents linked their responses to issues surrounding Brexit and its consequences.
The survey also found that larger companies were more likely to sponsor a visa than smaller companies. However, bureaucracy was a consistent issue among respondents, with one reporting that sponsoring a visa cost over £30,000.
The Graduate Route is unsponsored and does not require employers to commit to paperwork or pay towards visa costs or immigration health surcharges. In July 2022, the UK government released early analysis on the Graduate Route’s performance, surveying 50 graduates who had taken it up. Half of those surveyed found the surcharges “unfair.”
Most graduates who have taken up the Graduate Route are working in professional or associate professional level jobs and earning between £20,000 and £30,000 per year – similar to many entry-level jobs in the UK. However, if not enough people are taking up the initiative to hire people through the Graduate Route visa, it may not be sustainable. The policy note stated that while the program has strengths, it is not appropriate in all circumstances due to its temporary nature.
The report concluded that if the Graduate Route visa is to work as well as possible for both employers and graduates (not to mention the Exchequer), then it would make sense to convey its benefits more clearly to employers. IoD principal policy advisor for sustainability, skills and employment Alex Hall-Chen added that this research highlights a lack of knowledge among many employers about the visa and encouraged government to work closely with business representative organizations to raise awareness about its benefits.
If you’re an international student looking to stay and work in the UK after graduation, make sure to spread the word about the Graduate Route Visa and its benefits to potential employers. Together, we can help bridge the skills gap and contribute to the UK’s economic growth.
In conclusion, as an international student in the UK, you have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the Graduate Route Visa and contribute your skills and knowledge to help fill widespread skills shortages across public and private sectors. By spreading awareness about this initiative among potential employers and advocating for its benefits, you can help ensure its success and sustainability for future generations of international students.