New student immigration rules with new routes for prospective students
On 1 July 2020, the Government announced new plans to attract, retain and develop top talent to enhance the UK’s reputation as a leader in science including the establishment of a new Office for Talent. They promised to make it easier for talented individuals such scientists, researchers and innovators to settle in the UK. This is welcome news for the education sector which has felt the strain of a student migration system that has been thwart with restrictions for several years.
With the launch of the new points-based immigration system that goes live from 1 January 2021, EU citizens will be treated equally to other migrants who wish to study or work in the UK. The new student immigration rules will cater for skilled workers, students and a range of other specialist work routes.
In this post, we take a look at the various routes available and highlight the key impact of these changes on the education sector.
A points-based system
From 5 October 2020, we say farewell to Tier 4 and welcome the “Student route and Child Student route” under the new points-based system to attract the best and brightest international students from across the globe. There will be no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK, to help to increase the total number of international students choosing to study in the UK higher education system each year to 600,000 by 2030, as set out in the government’s International Education Strategy.
As part of the point-based student immigration rules, students will be required to score points to be eligible for a UK visa. This includes having an offer from an approved educational institution, having an understanding of English and demonstrating they can financially support themselves during their studies. This route will treat all international students equally, including those from Europe coming to study after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.
This means the UK’s world leading education sector can continue to welcome talented and high potential students to its globally renowned universities, further education English language colleges, and independent schools. The new student immigrations rules offer much more flexibility such as switching into the student route from within the UK; allow for application for entry to be filed six months in advance; waive meeting the English language and financial requirements with extension applications, and remove study time limits for postgraduate courses. Sponsors will, however, still need to maintain their sponsor compliance duties, and academic progression is still very much key to continued studies to pave the way for international graduates who desire a future career in the UK.
The new student immigration routes
Graduate Immigration route
Good news for international graduates! From summer 2021, a new Graduate Immigration route will be available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK. This is a bold move to encourage the Government’s commitment to improving the UK’s position as a top destination for study. It is an unsponsored route and intends to enable graduates to work or look for work, at any skill level for up to two years, or three years for PhD graduates.
More significantly, graduates under this immigration route will be able to apply in-country to switch into other work routes if they meet the requirements. It permits employment and self-employment and facilitates the move into other work routes that potentially lead to a settlement. The return of this post-study route will replace the current Doctorate Extension Scheme (DES), open to international students who have completed a PhD in the UK, with significant improvements.
Global Talent route
February 2020 saw the launch of the Global Talent visa providing fast-track entry visas to the UK for highly skilled top scientists, researchers and mathematicians with unlimited visa offers to the world’s brightest. In July 2020 further details were outlined in the UK’s new points-based system due to come into force in 2021 and open to EU citizens post-Brexit. The Global Talent route does not require a job offer and replaces the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route.
For the first time, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be able to endorse applicants from the scientific and research community. To help facilitate this, the government announced that the Office for Talent will cut unnecessary red tape and make it easier for international scientists, researchers and innovators to come to the UK to live and work. This visa route offers much flexibility, with permission of up to five years for a single application and no confirmed job offer required. In addition, there is no English language or maintenance requirement, although an endorsement from a Home Office approved list of selected UK industry is required and immigration health surcharges apply.
Global Talent visa holders are permitted to work for an employer or be self-employed, change jobs without informing the Home Office, travel abroad and return to the UK for research purposes as well as to bring dependents with them. This is an attractive visa route for the sector and employers alike, with no sponsor licence required to employ holders of this visa.
A visa route that has faded into the background since its launch in March 2019, but which is an opportunity for innovative international UK graduates who demonstrate high entrepreneurial potential to establish their own new business in the UK, with over one hundred UK higher education institutions able to endorse applicants.
This visa route is ideal for graduates with an original, innovative business idea that has potential for growth. Furthermore, applicants can join or invest in a business that is already trading. The Start-Up route replaced the old Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa and can be issued for up to two years and then extended into the Innovator visa route.
Graduates or overseas recruits who have a job from an approved sponsor at a required skill and salary level can continue to be sponsored under the new route for ‘Skilled Workers’ that is currently identified as Tier 2. Introduced as part of the new student immigration rules, this route will also be applicable to EU citizens from January 2021 who currently benefit from free movement and do not require sponsorship today to work in the UK.
From 1 January 2021, any such job offer will need to be at a required skill level of RQF3 or above (equivalent to A level rather than degree level), and there is a new lower general salary threshold of £25,600 as compared to £30,000. However, the main difference with the new system is that points can be traded if earning no less than £20,480 on specific characteristics against salary such as shortage occupation roles or having a PhD relevant to the job.
It is imperative for education providers that currently source some of their skilled staff from outside the UK, including the EU, to consider obtaining a Sponsor Licence if they do not already have one, to recruit from January 2021. Even if not currently in a position to sponsor migrants under the existing system, or if unsure of when sponsored migrants are required under the new system from January 2021, the UKVI are encouraging businesses and organisations to apply early, provided they meet all of the other requirements set out in the guidance.
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