From education to employment

‘Not heard of this’: Just 3% of employers have knowingly used the Graduate Route visa to tackle their skills shortages

A new HEPI Policy Note reveals a lack of understanding among employers of the post-study working rights of international students in the UK, even though the Graduate Route visa could provide the answer to many current skills shortages.

The Graduate Route visa was introduced in 2021 and allows international students to stay in the UK to work for two years (or three years for doctoral students), with none of the wage or job restrictions that apply to other work-related visas.

The paper ‘Not heard of this’: Employers’ perceptions of the UK’s Graduate Route visa (HEPI Policy Note 43) by Nick Hillman has been produced by HEPI and Kaplan working with the Institute of Directors. It finds:

  • the current migration system is widely disliked by employers for the level of bureaucracy involved in recruiting people from other countries;
  • a sizeable minority of employers avoid recruiting people from overseas primarily because of the hassle, cost and time involved; and
  • the Graduate Route, which removes the bureaucracy for employers and enables former international students to stay in the UK to work, has not been knowingly used by more than a tiny handful of employers (3%), while a much bigger proportion (27%) say they are not familiar with it and a further 20% say they have not used the route and have no plans to do so.

When asked to elaborate, the most notable theme was a lack of knowledge about the Graduate Route. Responses included:

  • I’m not sure of this new scheme.    
  • I’m not in a position to comment on this at the moment, but I think it is a good suggestion. … It is important that this is QUALITY CONTROLLED though.    
  • Not heard of this; I wonder if it is something that partly restores one of the many benefits taken away by the idiocy that is Brexit?    

The Policy Note concludes:

The current situation is bad for the UK, which is missing out on talent. It is bad for international students, who are missing out on opportunities. It is also bad for those educational institutions that want to recruit a higher number of international students in the future, as ambitious applicants may look to study in another country instead.

The Policy Note’s recommendations include:

  1. conveying the benefits of the Graduate Route visa more clearly to companies so that it works better for employers, graduates and the Exchequer; and
  2. putting in place a meaningful long-term agreement across Whitehall and across the political spectrum to maintain, or improve, the current post-study work rules for former international students wanting to provide their skills to UK employers.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

‘The widespread skills shortages across the public and private sectors will only be filled with the help of international students already in the UK. So I was shocked to discover that so few employers have used the Graduate Route, which is a brilliant way to recruit highly skilled staff.

‘A substantial proportion of people from other countries who have chosen to come and study here want to stay afterwards to work, thereby contributing their skills to the UK. It is in the interests of us all of us that they are given good opportunities to do so.

‘It is right that those in power want to ensure the visa system is trusted and robust. However, any attempt to tighten the current working rights of former international students will hamper economic growth. It would make more sense to increase their rights than to restrict them.’

Linda Cowan, Senior Vice President, UK and Middle East at Kaplan International Pathways, said:

‘It is widely understood that international students are highly skilled, and bring huge net financial and tax benefits to the UK. Their language abilities and knowledge can also help organisations to grow exports and create a more inclusive and diverse workforce. However, this survey highlights a gap in a key policy designed to attract international students.

‘The Graduate Route is unlike other employment-related visa schemes because it is free to employers, involves no bureaucracy and makes it possible to evaluate an international graduate for two or three years before making a longer commitment to hire them permanently.

‘The Graduate Route visa could make an important contribution to the government’s growth agenda if only more employers understood its benefits and ease of operation.’

Alex Hall-Chen, Principal Policy Advisor for Sustainability, Skills, and Employment at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said:

‘The Graduate Route visa represents a promising route for employers to access highly skilled talent at a time when many UK businesses are experiencing significant labour and skills shortages.

‘However, this research highlights a lack of knowledge among many employers about the visa, and we would encourage government to work closely with business representative organisations to raise awareness about its benefits.’

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