Skilled Worker Visa

UK Student visa holders will have to complete their studies before they can switch to the Skilled Worker visa

By Amer Zaman

on September 13, 2023

Read Time: 7 Minutes

The UK has long been a magnet for many of the most talented students from around the globe, which has helped spur on strong demand for Student visas. The present Student visa category for the UK was introduced in 2020, replacing the previous Tier 4 student visa.

The Skilled Worker visa, too, is a very popular one for people who wish to migrate to the UK. This category of visa, as the name suggests, gives international workers with the necessary skills the right to work in the UK for a Home Office-approved employer in the country. It replaced the Tier 2 visa at the end of 2020, and is now the main UK work visa for skilled foreign nationals.

Unsurprisingly, then, many foreign students in the UK have long been interested in switching from the Student visa to the Skilled Worker visa, to enable them to stay in the UK beyond their studies.

However, if you are a migrant who is on a Student visa in the UK, and you are considering changing to a Skilled Worker visa so that you can extend your time in the country, you might have heard that the UK Government has made some rule changes affecting these visa categories recently.

Of course, such changes may also impact on the employers that might wish to recruit such migrants to their workforce. So, whether you are a migrant or an employer, what are the new rules that you need to know about, and what may the effects of these be for you?

Why do so many overseas students in the UK look to switch to a Skilled Worker visa?

The UK Government naturally has its own interest in retaining many of the most talented graduates for the benefit of UK employers. This motivated its introduction of the Graduate visa route in 2021, with this visa category giving an eligible migrant the right to stay in the UK for a minimum of two years after they successfully complete their course in the UK.

A foreign national visa holder in the UK is able to apply for the Graduate visa if they fulfil certain conditions, including – but not limited to – being in the UK already, and their current visa being the Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa.

If the applicant is successful in being approved for this visa, they will have the right to seek work in the UK, and to work in most jobs in the country. Reflecting the Graduate visa’s status as essentially a transitional visa for many people, those who hold this visa are not able to extend it, but they may be able to switch to another visa, such as the Skilled Worker visa.

In practice, however, many organisations in recent years have sought to get their graduate recruits moved straight onto the Skilled Worker visa, in order to provide longer-term security for their stay in the UK. After all, while a Graduate visa can only last for two years (or three years if the visa holder has a PhD or another doctoral qualification), a Skilled Worker visa can last for as long as five years, and it can be extended at the end of that period.

So, it is highly relevant that the UK Government altered its Immigration Rules in July 2023, with the effect that international students will need to satisfy certain conditions in order to switch in-country from the Student visa to the Skilled Worker visa.

Can I switch from a Student visa to a Skilled Worker visa?

The short answer to this question is: yes, it is still possible for someone in the UK to switch from a Student visa to a Skilled Worker visa. However, they will need to fulfil the latest visa eligibility criteria.

One category of student migrant who is not able to switch directly from a student visa to a Skilled Worker visa while remaining in the UK, is a migrant on a Short-term study visa. This is a specific type of visa for those studying English language in the UK, and it is only for English language courses that last for longer than six months and up to 11 months.

If, then, you are on a Short-term study visa and wish to change to the Skilled Worker visa, you will need to leave the UK first, and apply for the Skilled Worker visa from abroad.

So, what is the situation for those who are on the main Student visa? Well, in order to switch to the Skilled Worker visa, you will need to satisfy all the usual requirements for that visa, including having a confirmed job offer from a UK employer that has been approved by the Home Office, and that job being on the list of eligible occupations.

You must also be able to speak, read, write, and understand English, in addition to meeting one of the below requirements:

  • You have completed the course that you were sponsored to study
  • Your job is set to begin after the completion of your course
  • You have spent a minimum of 24 months studying for a PhD.

Why did the UK Government make this change?

The Government has said that its move to stop foreign-national students switching from the Student visa to the Skilled Worker visa prior to the completion of their course, is motivated by a wish to “prevent misuse of the visa system”.

There has also been considerable political pressure on the Government to show what it is doing to drive down net migration to the UK. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently estimated that for the year ending December 2022, net migration reached 606,000; this figure was reached from a combination of total long-term immigration of around 1.2 million, and some 557,000 people leaving the country during the same period.

When the rule changes for the Student visa route were announced in May, Home Secretary Suella Braverman stated that the country had seen “an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependants being brought into the country with visas. It is time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers and meet the Government’s pledge to the British people to cut net migration.”

As the Government acknowledged at the time, though, Student visa holders bringing dependants with them to the UK, and/or switching directly from the Student visa to the Skilled Worker visa, is only part of the story behind such high net migration levels. The Government acknowledged a “rise in temporary factors, such as the UK’s Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes” – factors that it anticipated would ease over the medium term. However, the Home Office’s announcement of the Student visa category changes also said that during 2022, nearly half a million Student visas had been issued. It further stated that in the period since 2019, there had been a 750% rise in the number of dependants of overseas students, to 136,000 people.

What are the new rules for the Student visa in the UK?

As of 17th July 2023 onwards – this being the date when the UK Government published the changes to its Immigration Rules – international students in the country no longer have the right to switch to a UK work visa unless their course has been completed.

However, the latest changes are not solely in relation to completing studies before moving onto a work visa in the UK; with effect from January 2024, foreign-national students in the UK will also no longer be permitted to bring dependants with them on their Student visa. This restriction does not apply, though, to international students who are on a postgraduate research programme.

It is important to be aware of these rule changes if you are currently looking to apply for a Student visa in order to come to the UK, or contemplating staying in the UK to work after the end of your studies.

It is worth bearing in mind that Student visa holders in the UK may still have the right to work during their time on that visa, depending on such factors as what they’re studying, and whether they will be working in or out of term time (they cannot, however, work in certain jobs, such as in the role of a professional sportsperson or sports coach). Furthermore, if you have a spouse in the UK as your dependant, they will still be entitled to make their own switch to the Skilled Worker visa if they wish, before you have completed your course.

Our specialists in UK immigration law can advise and assist in relation to both student and work visas

While it is not generally the most straightforward process to arrange a switch from a Student visa to a Skilled Worker visa – whether you are reading this as an individual worker or an employer – it can still be done, subject to the fulfilment of certain requirements.

Our own team of experts in UK immigration law here at Cranbrook Legal has an excellent track record of helping our clients to change from one type of visa to another. We can project-manage our clients’ applications from start to finish, to help strengthen their chances of being approved for their desired UK visa change. And of course, if you simply have a few questions about any aspect of the process of applying for and/or switching a UK visa, we can answer those for you, too.

To learn more about how our award-winning immigration solicitors could help you, please feel free to give us a call today, on 0208 215 0053. Alternatively, you can complete and submit our online contact form to request your free consultation.

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