Changes For UK Student Visa Holders Switching To Work Visa Routes

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In a previous blog post, we discussed the changes to the Student Visa rules for dependants, which were announced in the government's Statement of Changes on 17th July 2023.
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In a previous blog post, we discussed the changes to the Student Visa rules for dependants, which were announced in the government's Statement of Changes on 17th July 2023. The announcement set out various amendments to the Student Visa application process, the rights of Student dependants and the process of transitioning from a Student Visa to a work visa. This post will discuss the changes to switching into a work visa route for Student Visa holders.

These changes affect students who applied after 3pm on 17th July 2023 for a course starting on or after 1st January 2024.

Which Work Routes Can a Student Switch to After Completing Their Studies?

The potential work routes for a Student, after completing their studies, include:

Previous Rules for Students Switching to Work Routes

Under the previous rules, students were able to transition from a Student Visa to certain work visas before the completion of their course. This meant that where the student had secured a job offer and met the requirements for the work visa, they could switch prior to completion of their studies. This was previously viewed as an incentive to encourage international students to remain in the UK, in order to contribute to the UK economy.

New Rules for Students Switching to Work Routes

Under the new rules, students can no longer switch to a work route until they have completed their degree-level course. They are still able to apply for a work visa, however the employment start date must be later than the course completion date. An exception applies for students who are studying a PhD, who are able to switch into the sponsored work route 24 months after the start date of their course, without needing to complete their studies.

Why Have These Changes to the Student Rules Been Implemented?

Increasing number of students who use the Student route as a means to enter the UK for immigration purposes, has always been a concern for the UK government. In 2011 the former Home Secretary Theresa May expressed in a statement that "if someone is coming to the UK as a student, study should be their main purpose – not work". This came as a response to an increase in foreign students staying in the UK to work in unskilled jobs. The former Home Secretary wanted to ensure that the student visa route was designed in a way to provide students a limited time to make a positive contribution to UK society through study. One year later, the 2010-2012 National Audit Office Report found that, during its first year of operation, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 students had entered the UK through the Tier 4 visa to work rather than to study. This was a call to action for the Home Office to curtail the number of students who were using the Student route as a means to work in the UK. One month after the National Audit Office Report, in April 2012, changes to the Student Visa route were officially implemented. However, these changes did not affect students' abilities to switch to work routes. Instead, they involved harsher measures on the English language requirement, stricter policies on educational institution sponsors and the closing of the 'post-study work route'. Please note that the Graduate route was later introduced in 2021, which currently allows international students to undertake work after their studies for 2 years, or 3 years for PhD students. For more information, please see our blog post on the Graduate Visa.

The stricter rules were intended to indirectly reduce migration through the Student route, as less students would be accepted for Higher Education courses. This is due to the fact that the standard thresholds for both the student and the educational institution were increased. However, the rules did not curtail net migration figures to the extent it was anticipated to do so.

This is demonstrated in the fact that the rationale behind the 2024 changes mirrors that of its 2012 counterpart. In January 2024, The Home Office, UK Visas and Immigration, Tom Pursglove MP, and The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP stated that the current changes are intended to "strike the right balance to continue to preserve the attractiveness of the UK's world-leading higher education sector, while removing the ability for institutions to undermine the UK's reputation by selling immigration not education." This statement reflects the government's concerns after the finding that the number of sponsored students in the UK had increased by 108% between the years 2019 and 2023. Furthermore, the Office of National Statistics (2021) found that 35% of student visa holders for the 2018/2019 academic year had successfully applied for new visas, including work visas, following completion of their studies. These figures, along with the fact that international students are one of the groups that are thought to be the most likely to emigrate, highlights why the government is tightening their restrictions on these groups of migrants. By ensuring students complete their studies prior to switching into a work route, it enables them to reduce the number of individuals "using a student visa as a backdoor route to work in the UK".

Can Student Visa Holders Still Work During Their Study?

Student Visa holders studying full-time are still eligible to work while they are studying. However, the type and amount of work is restricted. Students studying a full-time degree course can work:

  • A maximum of 20 hours per week of work is permitted during term time;
  • Full-time during holiday periods and if they are on a placement that is part of their assessed course. The placement should not be more than 50% of the total length of the course, subject to any statutory provisions which may require this period to be exceeded;
  • As a student union sabbatical officer for up to two years.

All work on the Student route must be temporary and students are not able to work on a permanent contract. They are also restricted from setting up a business or being self-employed. There are further conditions and exceptions to this. If you are concerned about your ability to work as a student, please contact our immigration barristers.

Please also note that the above rules apply to students over the age of 18 and studying a degree-level course. There are different rules for children and for those undertaking a full-time course of study below degree level.

Short-term Student Visa Holders

Another type of student visa is the Short-term Student Visa. This route is for individuals studying an English Language course in the UK which lasts between 6 to 11 months at an accredited institution. Those on a Short-term Study Visa are not entitled to work in the UK on either a paid or unpaid basis. They are also unable to switch into any other visa, including a work visa, while in the UK.

Overall, it is clear that those who intend to enter the UK on a Student Visa, must have the intention to complete the course in which the visa is granted. Although they are able to contribute positively to the UK economy through part-time work, their main intention should be to gain an education and their contribution to the UK should reflect that through their completion of study.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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