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UK Graduates to Face Even More Competition for Every Job

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It is arguably one of the best times to be gainfully employed in the UK. Recruiters are constantly courting professionals to trade in their jobs for more lucrative alternatives. For recent graduates, however, the picture is a little different. Unemployment at large may be low, but competition is rife for every entry-level graduate job, with many talented applicants looking for work, including graduates from abroad.

In 2021, there were 800,00 recent UK graduates. This does not even take into account around 1,200,000 graduates from 2018-2020 who are underemployed and still searching for a good graduate job. This is great for employers, who have their pick of candidates. However, it poses a problem for graduates. According to Chris Davies, founder of Graduate Coach, “there are 230 graduates fighting for every job,” in spite of the large number of vacancies.

Developments around visa rules for international students and graduates have also impacted competition in the job market. Changes made over the last few years have allowed many more foreign graduates to apply directly for jobs in the UK.

Before the government changed the graduate visa rules in 2019, relatively few non-EU students were able to stay in the UK with a Tier 2 visa. In fact, only 5,639 students in 2014 were granted this visa. Even successful applicants had only four months to look for work. As a result of this restrictive timeframe, many went home.

Following the introduction of the new Graduate Route in 2019, however, international students are able to apply to stay in the UK (and look for jobs) for two years. Since the opening up of student and graduate visa rules for non-EU citizens, there are around 300,000 international students applying directly for jobs in the UK. This is a significant proportion of all candidates applying for graduate jobs.

The recent introduction in 2022 of the new High Potential Individual route will likely bring more talented foreign graduates into the UK job market. This may increase the competition for graduate jobs even further. The HPI route allows international graduates from the top 50-ranked universities in the world to obtain a UK work-visa for two years (for those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree) or three years (for those who hold a PhD). These graduates do not need to have an existing job offer to come to the UK and there is no cap on the number of graduates who are eligible for the visa.

The scheme has attracted criticism, since none of the universities in the top-50 rankings that the UK government accepts are located in Southeast Asia, Africa or Latin America, thus missing out on the talent in those regions. Even with these criticisms, however, the scheme will likely attract many high-achieving job-seekers.

The HPI visa is part of the UK government’s strategy to attract talent to the UK and make up for a lack of specific skills in the current workforce, particularly in STEM areas. There is, indeed, an ongoing brain-drain from the UK in these areas. The stated aim of this scheme is to increase innovation and grow sectors of the economy that will create high-skilled jobs. If this is successful, it will benefit the UK economy and future jobseekers, including UK graduates. In the short term, however, it is possible that attracting accomplished graduates from prestigious international universities may serve to make it more difficult for recent UK graduates to stand out in an already saturated job market.

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