What are the new rules of students switching to the skilled worker visa?

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
3 April 2024

Employers who wish to recruit an international graduate can use the graduate route which was introduced in 2021. This route was designed to encourage international graduates to stay in the UK by making it easier to remain in the UK after studying and to recruit graduates straight into the skilled worker route as a long-term recruitment solution. However, changes to the immigration rules in July 2023 meant that international students must meet certain conditions in order to switch in country from a student visa to a skilled worker visa.

In 2024, additional new rules came into effect for those who wish to switch from a student visa to a skilled worker visa. These changes are that you must complete your course of study and if you are studying for a full time PhD the employment start date should be no earlier than 24 months of your course.

Effective from 4 April 2024, the minimum salary requirements for a skilled worker visa will rise to £38,700 per year. However, a new graduate may qualify for a skilled worker visa with a lower salary if they are considered to be a New Entrant or if they have a PhD.

Who is classed as a new entrant?

  1. You are under the age of 26 on the date of the application or;
  2. You have been sponsored for a Post Doctorate Position in one of the following occupations: Chemical Scientist, Biological Scientist or Bio Chemist, Physical Scientist, Social & Humanity Scientist, Natural & Social Science Professional or Higher Education Teaching Professional or;
  3. You are working towards a recognised professional qualification in a UK regulated profession or;
  4. You are working towards full registration or chartered status with the relevant professional body for the job you are being sponsored for or;
  5. You are switching from Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) or;
  6. Your most recent permission, other than as a visitor, was under Tier 4 (General) or under the Student route and this permission is current or expired less than 2 years before the date of the application. In that permission, you must have been sponsored to study for a UK Bachelor’s Degree, UK Masters Degree, UK PhD or other doctorate qualification or post-grad certificate in education or a professional graduate diploma of education.

Why has the government made these changes?

The government announced that the move to restrict international students from switching from a student visa to a skilled worker visa before the completion of their course is intended to prevent misuse of the visa system. The idea behind this is that students visa is for study and those applying for a student visa should fulfil the purpose for which they have stated in their application before moving to work. The Home Secretary also asked the Immigration Advisory Committee to carry out a review of the Graduate visa route and the letter from the Home Secretary to the Chair of the Committee asked that the review cover the following areas:

  1. Any evidence of abuse of the route including the route not being fit for purpose.
  2. Who is using the route and from what university they graduated.
  3. Demographic and transfer students accessing a study visa and subsequently accessing the UK labour market by means of the graduate visa.
  4. What individuals do during and after their time on the graduate route whether the students would progress with the graduate route and are contributing to the economy.
  5. Analysis of whether the graduate route is undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system.
  6. The Committee has been asked to prepare the report by 14 May 2024 but the Chair of the Committee has responded to the Home Secretary stating that because of the short timescale provided they will be unable to conduct.

What are the changes for students bringing dependants to the UK?

Students on a course of study after 1 January 2024 will only be able to bring dependants if they are government sponsored or are studying towards a PhD, another doctorate qualification or a researched based higher degree. Dependents already in the UK remain able to extend their leave.

What is eligibility for indefinite leave to remain?

Time spent on student route cannot be combined with time spent as a skilled worker in order to qualify for settlement after five years, unless applying for the ten-year settlement route. Once the candidates switch to a skilled worker visa, they must complete five years of continuous residence in the UK to qualify for indefinite leave to remain.