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UK: more students switching to skilled worker visa on arrival

Stakeholders in the UK sector are reporting increasing numbers of international students dropping out soon after enrolment in order to accept employment offers in the care sector.

For essential service sectors such as healthcare, employing international students already in the UK is a way to fill the gap. Photo: Pexels

Students who can secure a job offer from an approved employer can apply to switch from the student route visa to the skilled worker visa

Changes to the skilled worker visa system mean that applicants are no longer required to hold a degree level qualification to apply.

Students who can secure a job offer from an employer approved by the Home Office, can then apply to switch from the student route visa to the skilled worker visa immediately, without any need to complete their degree.

The PIE News has discovered a growing trend of overseas immigration consultants using universities as a stepping stone to help clients enter the UK then switch to care jobs before they are required to pay full tuition fees.

This route offers a cheaper and faster pathway to full-time employment in the UK compared to the graduate route – which requires students to pay expensive course fees and maintenance for the duration of their course, before entering the jobs market.

While this is a completely legitimate immigration pathway, it will play havoc with university finances as it cannabalises the international student population before they graduate.

Non-continuation costs the UK higher education sector more than £300 million per year, and more than 100 universities are each losing more than £1m annually in undergraduate tuition fees alone from students who drop out, according to pre-pandemic HESA data.

In a now-deleted tweet, Lexan Law promoted the opportunity on social media, stating, “Attention all international students! New vacancies for care workers and health professionals in the UK with instant job placement. The only thing needed is for you to switch your visa with the skilled worker visa.”

Another consultant IIaahi Law Firm, celebrates the ease of processing the transfer, stating “another success of student switch study visa into tier 2 worker permit successfully in just a very short time”.

A potential student responds asking, “my brother successfully got sponsorship under care home tier-2 visa. He just came [for] 10 weeks [at university] in the UK before switching to tier-2 care assistant under reputed company without any hassle. Can you tell me how?”

The skilled worker visa, previously known as the Tier 2 visa, was redesigned to make applications smoother including a lowering of the salary threshold and the removal of the resident labour market test. If approved, candidates can work in the UK for up to five years before applying to extend their visa or apply for permanent residency.

An anonymous UK university source told The PIE, “We are seeing a growing number of students transfer to Tier 2 [skilled worker visa]. We have seen a number from September intake [do this] already, there are certainly more students arriving in the UK and then quickly transitioning.

“It is something that is on our radar, and subsequently we’re putting more steps in place to try and mitigate this within our credibility interviews and also our compliance policies.”

They continued, “We do try and ask students what their plans are if they decide to leave UCB, but often they become very disengaged by this stage [so it is hard to track]. We keep an eye on the early indicators, such as their location and also attendance to intercept students who are not active as early as possible.”

While the latest immigration statistics do not state how many people switched visa route, they do show a 179% increase in skilled worker visas granted in human health and social care activities in Q3 year-on-year. Successful recipients grew from 7,711 in Q3 2021 to 21,543 in Q3 2022.

This period correlates to the main autumn university intake in the UK and shows the biggest spike of skilled worker visas granted in the year.

There is also a correlation to the January intake with +67% increase year on year in Q1 with 11,139 visas granted in 2022. These numbers exclude applicants who have applied to extend an existing visa.

The Home Office currently advises an 11-week average wait time to get a decision on skilled worker visas due to high demand.

“There are certainly more students arriving in the UK and then quickly transitioning”

For essential service sectors such as healthcare, that have been hit with labour shortages since Brexit, employing international students already in the UK is a way to fill the gap.

Government instructions on how to switch to the skilled worker visa state, “you might be able to apply to change (‘switch’) to a skilled worker visa if you’re already in the UK on a different type of visa.

“You must meet the following requirements – your job meets the eligibility requirements; [and] you can speak, read, write and understand English.

“You’ll usually need to be paid at least £25,600 per year or £10.10 per hour, whichever is higher. There are different salary rules if you work in some healthcare jobs, where the going rate is based on national pay scales,” the instructions add.

Higher education leaders may be puzzled by increasing drop-out rates from international applicants, often looking internally to service standards, agent networks or student support for answers.

Very few will have identified the ease that students can move to full-time employment so soon into their university life.

At the time of writing the University of Warwick website states that students planning to switch to the skilled worker visa “must have completed (or be applying no more than 3 months before they are expected to complete) the course” but this advice would appear to be no longer valid.

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24 Responses to UK: more students switching to skilled worker visa on arrival

  1. It was inevitable. The rules should’ve been Students must complete the study and then apply for skilled worker visa. Instead they have tier 2 with very lengthy process for students who’s seeking to get residency.

    Besides health care agencies are selling the tier 2 sponsorship in many ways. Pretty much everyone paying £5-10k avg. to the third party (negotiator) for tier 2 COS. It’s a open secret.

    Why they wait 5-7 years when they can just spend lesser than their tuition to study UK universities & get Tier 2’cos. Time for the home office to crackdown students again.

  2. This is a bad loophole.
    As Is well known fact that some of the care centres charge £15k to £20k to issue visa and than offer minimum wage 5 year contract.
    It’s mainly private care centre. Easy way of making money. The money they receive is cash in hand. No tax to trail.

    Something need to be fdone urgently.

  3. it is like the illegal boat people arriving without paying the visa fees to the home office.student visa are big business in India ,ittis backdoor illegal imigration. The home office should crakdown o it now

  4. The logic would have been to give these type of visas to undocumented migrants, overstayers who have exhausted their appeals, fast track asylum seekers claims waiting to be processed to let them work than recruit from staff outside who are not familiar with the healthcare industry.

    • Whether you agree with this or not Peter- they are not “illegal” immigrants. We need to stop confusing this, to have a more informed debate.

  5. This is a disgrace. The goverment are doing nothing to stop illegal immigrants from entering the UK. This loophole needs suring up
    Before we sink into the abyss

  6. Another thing also needs to be consider is some home care companies extort or take advantage in the name mileage and actual salary. They want the employee to leave so they can hire another employee with more £15-£20k.

  7. UK government should make student route to permanent residency 5yrs and you will see that a lot of people really want to study. A student will spend a huge amount of money for tuition, and a minimum of 11yrs plus renewal every 2yrs to get permanent residency because even the study year doesn’t count as part of the 10yrs requirements. All these they can get within 5yrs and a few thousand pounds.

  8. I don’t blame whoever wants to switch. Upon arriving in the country, the landlord will demand 6 months rent up front for £800/£950 pcm hence they withdraw the University fee balance in their account abroad to find a shelter.
    Four months or so in the country the University will start threatening them with “you have been excluded from the University and we have reported to the Home office that we are no longer your sponsor”
    And with 20 hrs working….it’s not good news for the students 😕
    So the sensible thing is for them to look for Care agency and switch.

  9. Hi..i just come to know this website that your firm are helping students to come to UK through health care programe.I want to present my self for healthcare job..I am living in Pakistan already have beautician skilled certificate ..Could you please direct me what to do.Thanks

  10. Any decision that the home office may take, they should please put studying into consideration. Some students like me really like to study but the high tuition cost as a result of others with another motive apart studying resulted in the thought that majority of the students with student route visa wanted higher education hence skyrocketed the cost of migration for study. These has reduced scholarships chances and placed distraction on real students for studies.

    Although we all want sponsorship but not all of those students really have the charisma to further their education, t we want to further, we want scholarships and sponsorship in our chosen fields. Home Office please consider us, we have charisma and we don’t want distraction. Thank you…

  11. Am interested in switching over to tier 2 skill care worker, because the intentional office has already sent us a message via our student email portal that they will block us by ending of 31st January, so I wouldn’t want a situation we’re I will be studying under duress,so I want to make hay while the sun shine,

  12. If one switch, is it possible to still go schooling? I have someone who has finished the first year of the 2years of her master’s but is willing to switch, can she still do her studies while she switches?

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