Graduate visa shake-up offers new opportunities to businesses

Alison Paton, Founder, Align People HR and Vice Chair of North Scotland & Isles, CIPD

By Alison Paton, Founder, Align People HR and Vice Chair of North Scotland & Isles, CIPD

RECRUITMENT in 2022 has presented considerable challenges – the UK economy is facing its worst staff shortages since the late 1990s thanks to Covid and Brexit.  However, a positive change was announced last year which many people still appear to be unaware of. 

As we enter a new academic year, it seems an appropriate time to remind both employers and students that the government policy on Graduate visas changed in July 2021.  The change means that international graduates can now work in the UK for two years without employer sponsorship, or three years for doctoral students.

Previously, employers were required to commit to sponsorship of an international graduate.  Now, graduates can apply for a Graduate visa while seeking work and prior to having an offer of employment.  This means a less administratively onerous process for employers.

In addition to this, it makes highly qualified and talented international graduates more accessible to a larger range of organisations.  Any previous limitations in the type of work international graduates could carry out, or the minimum salary requirements, no longer apply.

We ensured that we highlighted the change in government policy to our clients as they weren’t aware of it.  Now, several companies that we work with have taken advantage of the scheme and have successfully recruited for roles that are traditionally difficult to fill, including engineering and technology-based positions.

The change widens a recruiter’s candidate pool and should help to address staff shortages.  Another benefit is the flexibility that the two-year visa period provides, particularly for smaller businesses who may be unsure of their longer-term recruitment needs or may only require short-term support for a specific project. 

From the graduate’s point of view, it also gives them time decide whether they want to be based in the UK on a long-term basis and if the organisation is right for them. 

Provided both parties are happy to continue the working arrangement after two years, the graduate would then need to be employed under a Skilled Worker visa.  This replaces the previous Tier 2 visa and is far more accessible and flexible.  Most importantly, when a graduate commits to stay at the end of the two-year period, this is a strong indicator that they are likely to remain loyal to the company which gave them that first step on the career ladder.

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