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How could hiring international graduates help my business?

It has never been easier to hire from the rich pool of international graduate talent coming from UK higher education providers. Last year, the UK hosted around 560,000 international students from all over the world – notably China, India, the United States and the EU, all important trading partners for the UK. Many are studying higher-level qualifications such as Master’s and PhDs, predominantly in business and STEM subjects, providing an important source of high-skilled workers.

Including international graduates in your recruitment mix could make good business sense, as well as protecting your organisation from discrimination claims:

  • Employers with a diverse workforce benefit from higher profits, increased innovation and creativity and enhanced brand appeal
  • International graduates can help you fill skills gaps in areas such as engineering, IT, and biological science
  • Grow your exports by harnessing international graduates’ home country knowledge, and languages such as Mandarin and Arabic.

Growing Yee Kwan’s ice cream exports to China

“I used my language skills, together with my knowledge of PR and marketing, to get two large orders from Chinese companies.”

Leanne Liu, MA Intercultural Communication, University of Sheffield

What are my hiring options under immigration law?

The full range of hiring options are detailed in the latest government guidance. We highlight here the two most relevant options for employers interested in recent international graduates applying for work from the UK. This includes EU nationals, unless they have successfully applied for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, which will give them the right to work in the UK.

1. Hire without sponsoring for two or three years under the Graduate route

The Graduate route allows international graduates to stay in the UK for up to two years (or three if they have a PhD) to work or look for work. The work is not subject to a minimum skill level or salary threshold. This means that it is now much easier for employers to hire international graduates:

  • No need to sponsor – international students apply to this unsponsored route themselves
  • No employer fees to pay
  • Trial opportunity – see how your new hire performs, before committing to sponsorship. If you wish to extend beyond the period of the Graduate route, as long as the job you are offering meets the requirements (and you are willing to become a sponsor, if you are not already), your employee can apply to switch into the Skilled Worker route. As well as allowing you to retain a valuable employee, this is more cost effective than going back out into the job market to hire and train a new recruit. (Your employee can apply to switch to the Skilled Worker route at any point during the Graduate route period).
  • Flexible – the Graduate route is ideal if you have a fixed-term project or if you aren’t yet sure of your longer-term requirements.
  • Accessible to smaller employers, and the non-profit, creative and heritage sectors who may not always be able to meet the minimum salary requirements of the Skilled Worker route or who do not have a licence to sponsor Skilled Workers.
2. Hire longer-term on the Skilled Worker route

The former Tier 2 visa has been replaced by the Skilled Worker visa, which offers more benefits to employers:

  • More flexibility over skill level: you can sponsor jobs at or above the minimum skill level of RQF 3 (this is A-level or equivalent) – all graduates will meet this level. A much wider range of roles can therefore now be sponsored.
  • No limit on the length of time which can be spent under the Skilled Worker route and no cooling-off period between a person’s Skilled Worker visa and their next – giving you greater control over your staffing plans
  • No cap on numbers and no Resident Labour Market Test – which has removed up to 8 weeks from time taken to sponsor a Skilled Worker compared with the previous system
  • Lower salary commitment – the lower “new entrant” rate has been extended from three to four years, making hiring international graduates more affordable

The person you wish to hire under the Skilled Worker visa must score 70 points. 50 are untradeable:

  • 20 points if the job offer is from an approved sponsor
  • 20 points if the job is on the list of eligible occupations (Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations)
  • 10 points if their English Language is at least level B1 (graduates will have had to demonstrate at least this level to study here so will not need to take additional tests).

They must also score at least 20 points from a range of tradeable criteria, which include being a new entrant to the labour market.