International graduates from UK universities are currently eligible to stay and work in the country for two years under the graduate route visa, introduced in 2021, which does not require employer sponsorship.
If they find a company to sponsor them during this time, they can then apply for the skilled worker visa and remain in the UK – something some international students plan for from the outset when deciding where to study and many of those currently on the graduate route may have been hoping for.
In December, the government increased the amount of money a foreign worker must earn in order to be eligible for a skilled worker visa from £26,200 to £38,000.
“A promise was made to the students currently on the grad route”
Tripti Maheshwari, director and co-founder of Student Circus, which helps international students find jobs in the UK, said she had received messages from hundreds of “worried students” who were concerned about how the new rules may impact their future plans.
“A certain expectation was set, and a promise was made to the students currently on the grad route,” she said.
“They chose the UK based on the rules at the time – these changes must keep in line with the career plans of students in-country.”
The changes will come into effect in Spring 2024, with more details of the policies expected to be announced in the coming months.
According to research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, most graduates in the UK fell in the salary band of £24,000 – £26,999 approximately 15 months after completing their studies, when it last conducted its Graduate Outcomes research in 2020/21.
Over 100,000 people were issued visas for the graduate route in the year ending September 2023, according to the Home Office.
For international students, securing a job in the UK can be more challenging due to a lack of understanding about the graduate route. Research from the Higher Education Policy Institute released earlier this year found only 3% of employers had used the route and more than half weren’t aware of its existence.
The government has also announced a review of the graduate route, set to be delivered in September 2024, focused on preventing “abuse” of the visa.
There are concerns that the new policies will undermine efforts to educate businesses about employing international graduates.
Sanam Arora, founder and chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, said, “There’s a fair bit of concern as students are saying they’re already finding it difficult to land jobs on the graduate route.
“At a time when more needs to be done to educate employers to take on international graduates, we’re to the contrary adding further difficulties making it much harder for graduates to switch to this route.”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.