10 things graduate recruiters need to know about UK immigration

As employers begin to ramp up their graduate recruitment programmes for 2019, what considerations do they need to bear in mind for EU and non-EU candidates? Jessica Pattinson, head of immigration at Dentons, offers 10 key pieces of advice.

International students, from both EU and non-EU countries, make up around a fifth of the university student population in the UK.

With many employers now looking to university campuses for their 2019 starters, and the outcome of Brexit negotiations no clearer, what are the key things they need to know about employing non-UK nationals?

1. EU nationals have the right to work in the UK, for the time being

EU nationals resident in the UK prior to the date that the UK leaves the EU (29 March 2019) will be able to stay.

Further, providing the UK and the EU agree a "deal", freedom of movement of EU nationals will continue until 31 December 2020, meaning that new arrivals will also be able to take up employment.

Recruiters should encourage EU nationals graduating from UK universities to apply for settled/pre-settled status via the EU settlement scheme.

This will provide the graduate with confirmation of their residence in the UK and assurance that Brexit will not impact their ability to work in the UK and build a career here.

2. Irish nationals are not affected by Brexit in the same way as other EU nationals

The UK and Ireland share a common travel area which means that Irish nationals will continue to be able to live and work in the UK post Brexit.

They will not need to apply for settled/pre-settled status via the EU Settlement Scheme like other EU nationals; however, they may choose to do so.

3. Work permit sponsorship for non-EEA national graduates is easier than you may think

There are a number of concessions and exemptions for recent graduates from UK universities which mean that it is easier to provide Tier 2 General sponsorship, compared with experienced hires.

When providing work permit sponsorship to a recent graduate, there is an exemption from the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). This means there is no need to justify why you are offering employment to a non-EEA national ahead of a resident worker.

The salary thresholds are also lower. Providing the role on offer is a graduate level role, paying above the minimum salary threshold (which ranges from £20,800 to £30,000+ depending on the occupation), it should be a reasonably straightforward process.

4. Switching Tier 4 General student visa holders to a Tier 2 General employer sponsored visa

Until recently, a Tier 4 General student visa holder needed to have "successfully completed and passed" a degree level course to switch to a Tier 2 General employer sponsored visa.

Now, the student only needs to have "completed" a degree level course. This change may seem minor, but for masters degrees students the need to have successfully completed and passed often meant that they needed to wait months for the outcome of their thesis to apply.

Under the current rules, they can apply as soon as their thesis is submitted. For undergraduates and taught masters, they can apply once they have sat their exams.

There is a different requirement for PhD students (which has not changed in recent years) - they just need to have completed 12 months of study towards their PhD to be able to switch to a Tier 2 visa.

5. The Tier 1 Post Study Work visa is unlikely to be re-introduced in the near future

Until April 2012 graduates from UK universities were able to apply for a two-year work visa, called a Tier 1 Post Study Work visa, which enabled them to take employment in the UK.

This visa was ideal for employers looking to employ talented graduates, without the immediate need to go through the administrative burden of Tier 2 sponsorship. The government has resisted ongoing pressure to reinstate this visa, meaning that most non-EEA graduates need to apply for a Tier 2 General visa to remain in the UK after graduating.

6. Tier 4 General student visa holders can work after completing their studies, but…

A non-EEA national who holds a Tier 4 General student visa is generally given an additional four months of visa validity after the scheduled end of their course of study. During this time the Tier 4 General visa holder can work, but they are not allowed to fill a full-time permanent vacancy. Temporary, fixed-term employment, such as an internship, is permitted.

7. Recent graduates enjoy a number of visa fee exemptions - but still consider a clawback

Government fees for visa applications have increased substantially in recent years. The most costly element is the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) which is charged at £1,000 per year of visa validity.

However, when sponsoring a recent graduate there is an exemption from the ISC which makes the fees more manageable. That said, it might still be wise to use a clawback letter to ensure that you have the option to recover all or some of the fees paid on behalf of the employee if they leave your employment within the first 12 to 24 months.

8. Graduates applying for a Tier 2 General visa from outside the UK

If you recruit graduates who studied outside the UK, or graduates who studied in the UK but returned to their home country or took a gap year, there is a slightly different process for Tier 2 employer sponsorship.

The main difference is there is no exemption from the RLMT (see above), meaning that the role on offer may need to be advertised to the UK resident labour market first.

9. Changes to UK immigration over the next two years

The UK government has made it clear that freedom of movement from the EU will end following Brexit.

In line with this, there are likely to be major changes to the UK immigration regime during the next two years.

This uncertainty may be a concern for recent graduates and recruiters need to provide reassurance that skilled employment is unlikely to be negatively affected. In fact, some requirements under Tier 2 may even be relaxed.

10. Internships, placements and vacation schemes

Finally, a couple of considerations where you are offering internships, placement and vacation schemes.

Tier 4 General student visa holders are usually able to take up these types of role, however, there are restrictions on the length of placements (relative to the course length), and a student can only work full-time on an internship or vacation scheme outside term time.

If you would like to offer the student a full-time graduate role after a successful internship, placement or vacation scheme, their contract should be subject to obtaining a Tier 2 General employer sponsored visa.

It is also a good idea to perform a thorough assessment of eligibility and set expectations regarding the process and cost with the candidate and the business.