How new UK work visas can open up graduate recruitment

With recent changes making it easier for employers to access international talent, Anne Morris outlines key considerations for businesses

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The UK’s Immigration Rules have typically limited UK employers’ access to international graduates. With complex sponsorship and cost obligations, many companies have been deterred from fully tapping into the global graduate talent pool. 

But recent changes to UK visas could see graduate recruitment programmes open up, as the government looks to attract and retain global talent within the UK on a long-term basis. 

Unsponsored visas 

UK employers can already hire UK-based international graduates under the graduate route. This allows international graduates who have studied in the UK to remain here for up to two years after they graduate, or up to three years with a PhD, without sponsorship or work restrictions. 

Under previous rules, employers would have had to sponsor graduates from overseas universities under a points-based route, such as the skilled worker visa. But the new ‘high potential individual’ visa, launched earlier this year, allows employers in the UK to hire graduates from certain high-calibre non-UK universities for up to two years, or three years with a PhD, without the need to sponsor them and without restrictions on the type of work they can do. 

With skills and labour shortages continuing to plague all parts of the UK economy, the ability to hire international graduates from both UK and overseas institutions without sponsorship could transform graduate recruitment in the UK. 

Dos and don’ts when hiring international graduates 

Don’t overlook international graduates 

Why hire non-UK graduates? Recruiting from outside the domestic labour market can enrich your organisation’s culture and capability. International graduates have the potential to not only offer technical skills, but they can also bring linguistic abilities, cultural diversity and knowledge of overseas markets. 

Do learn about the new work visa routes

International recruitment may traditionally have been the preserve of larger employers with the resources and knowledge to hire from overseas. But we could see the graduate recruitment playing field level out as businesses of all sizes start to recruit non-UK graduates. Unsponsored routes open up this talent pool to employers that may previously have been deterred or precluded from the international graduate market because of complex visa rules and sponsorship costs. 

The challenge for employers is to understand the visa options available and how to leverage these for competitive advantage in their recruitment and talent acquisition. 

Employers that already hire international graduates should consider how the routes can enhance existing recruitment programmes, while companies that have not previously accessed the overseas market should take this opportunity to consider if they should now tap into this labour pool.

Do think long term 

Both the graduate route and high potential individual routes are short-term visas, meaning employers will have to be clear on any long-term immigration and employment path for workers hired under these routes. Will they need fixed-term contracts? What happens when the worker’s visa is expiring? How will you determine if you want, and are able, to retain the worker? What will you need to do to support the worker in securing new status and permission to remain? 

In most cases, this would involve sponsoring the graduate to switch to a long-term work visa such as the skilled worker visa. While there will be greater certainty in applying to sponsor an existing employee, sponsorship does place financial and compliance demands on the organisation. 

Do be clear on your obligations as an employer

Hiring an international graduate is different to hiring a UK resident. Employers have to understand their obligations towards visa workers, such as providing support with visa applications and meeting their duties if they are a sponsor. 

Do look beyond recent graduates

The high potential individual visa is open to those who graduated up to five years ago, offering employers talent with both professional experience as well as academic achievement. Without restrictions on the type of work the visa holder has to take on, businesses can take advantage of the flexibility to look beyond entry-level graduate training, with the space to be creative in tailoring programmes to your needs. 

Don’t forget immigration compliance 

While hiring under the unsponsored routes is less administratively onerous than sponsored visas, UK employers are still subject to the ‘right to work’ regime and must carry out document checks on all employees, including those recruited under short-term graduate routes, and have procedures in place for follow-up checks on those with time-limited permission to work. 

Anne Morris is managing director of DavidsonMorris