Experts welcome 'high potential' visa route for international graduates

But firms are advised there may be challenges to employers hoping to make longer-term hires using the scheme

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Experts have welcomed the creation of a new visa scheme as an opportunity for firms to avoid sponsorship licence fees and access a larger pool of skilled workers.

The government introduced a new ‘High Potential Individual’ visa route that will allow graduates from a number of prestigious international universities, including Harvard, MIT, the Karolinska Institute and Kyoto University, to work in the UK for two to three years depending on their qualification.

The new route is intended to attract those at the early stages of their careers and will ensure the UK puts “ability and talent first – not where someone comes from”, said Priti Patel, the home secretary.

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“This government is delivering for the British people by bringing in the high skills and talent our country and businesses need,” Patel added.

Successful applicants will be given a 2-year work visa (or a 3-year visa for those with a PhD) and will be permitted to move into other long-term employment routes after their visa expires. 

Commenting on the announcement, Charlie Pring, employment specialist at Taylor Wessing, said the route was a welcome addition given that the current points-based system requires firms to apply for a sponsor licence, something Pring described as a “headache”.

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“Employers will be pleased to see a cheaper and often faster alternative visa route for some new hires, especially start-ups or SMEs that either are not yet sponsors or that can't afford the higher sponsorship fees,” he explained.

Chetal Patel, immigration partner at Bates Wells, added that the new route would be a “bonus” for employers as they won’t have to “go through the bureaucracy and eye watering costs of sponsorship”.

However, she warned: “A downside of the route is that it doesn’t lead to settlement, so we may see individuals switch into other immigration categories from inside the UK adding to further costs for their UK immigration journey.”

She recommended firms planning to employ graduates longer term would need to “keep on top of the visa expiry dates and immigration options available at the relevant time”.

Some of these more long term options, she said, might include firms requiring sponsor status.

The new visa route could have other benefits to employers, said Paul Holcroft, managing director at Croner, who notes that a larger pool of skilled workers may shift the power dynamic in the recruitment process towards firms – at least in the short term.

“At the moment, it has been widely argued that applicants have more flexibility and ability to set demands,” he said. “But, with more candidates competing for high skilled positions, employers may be back in a better position to choose from a number of talented and qualified individuals.”

If firms are planning to use the scheme, he advised that they assess their internal policies to ensure they meet the needs of relocating graduates. 

“Many of these individuals will be young and worried about leaving their hometown,” he explained. “As such, having an in-depth induction, support network and social activities can be a good way to assimilate them into the business.” 

He also said employers should ensure they conduct the appropriate right to work checks before employing such individuals. While businesses do not need to obtain a sponsorship licence for this, it is important the necessary information is obtained and checked prior to confirming a job offer.