UK employers ‘don’t understand’ post-study work visa – survey

Only 3 per cent of firms in survey had hired someone using the new graduate route

January 5, 2023
Source: Alamy

Only 3 per cent of UK employers have relied on a newly created graduate visa to recruit staff despite reports of skills and labour market shortages, a survey has found.

While the return of an automatic post-study work visa in July 2021, nine years after it was scrapped in 2012, was widely hailed as a major policy win for universities, a report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) reveals minimal use of the graduate visa route so far among employers and, in many cases, low awareness about its benefits.

Working with university pathway company Kaplan and the Institute of Directors (IoD), a membership scheme for company directors, Hepi polled 656 companies about migration and found that just 3 per cent have either employed or would soon employ former international students using the scheme, which offers a two-year visa to recent graduates of UK universities, or three years for those who had completed a doctorate.

Another 42 per cent say they would consider employing international workers through the graduate route but had not yet had the chance to, according to the report, published on 5 January.

Despite employers facing no additional employment costs under the graduate route – unlike those incurred by firms using the tier 2 skilled worker visa – some 20 per cent say they would not consider employing staff using the new system, most of whom cited the onerous level of bureaucracy faced previously when sponsoring staff.

A further 27 per cent of respondents did not know about the new post-study visa route, which was taken up by 66,000 graduates in its first year, and is credited for contributing to a bounceback in international student enrolments in 2021-22, particularly among students from India and Pakistan, following the end of Covid travel restrictions.

Given that one-fifth of respondents had previously sponsored visas for international staff, the 3 per cent figure that had used the “comparatively light-touch” new visa route was “surprisingly low”, suggesting that many had developed a general suspicion of navigating the Home Office visa approval system, says the report.

Greater efforts should be made to address some misconceptions about the new visa route, whose costs are borne by graduates themselves in the form of a £715 fee and a £624 annual health surcharge, said Nick Hillman, Hepi’s director.

“We’re reading a lot about how employers are desperately short of skilled workers, with half a million more people now economically inactive after the pandemic, but there is a very easy route to hire a lot of the staff that firms need,” said Mr Hillman. “It seems like many more than 3 per cent of firms are complaining about this problem.”

Linda Cowan, senior vice-president at Kaplan International Pathways, said the lack of awareness or use of the post-study work visa risked undermining a “key policy” for UK higher education

‘The graduate route is unlike other employment-related visa schemes because it is free to employers, involves no bureaucracy and makes it possible to evaluate an international graduate for two or three years before making a longer commitment to hire them permanently,” said Ms Cowan, who added that it could “make an important contribution to the government’s growth agenda if only more employers understood its benefits and ease of operation”.

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