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October’s Employment Law Digest – Employing and retaining international students

When looking to fill vacancies and ease workforce pressures, one thing which employers should not overlook is the value of recruiting overseas nationals living in the UK with a Student visa.

These individuals can be a great benefit to employers in bringing valuable skills and resource to bridge gaps within the organisation, without the usual costs and compliance obligations associated with sponsoring individuals for work visas.

As universities across the UK are entering the start of a new academic year, now is a prudent time to recap the immigration rules surrounding the employment of international students and the recent changes which have been implemented in this area.

Working hours

Not all international students are entitled to work whilst they are in the UK, but most are allowed to undertake part-time employment. Employers should therefore check the number of hours that the student is permitted to work during term time, which is usually 10 or 20 hours a week. This information will be apparent when conducting an online right to work check.

Students with the right to work can work full-time before their course starts, during vacations or after they have completed their course up to the expiry of their Student visa.

Employers must therefore obtain, copy and retain details of the student’s academic term and vacation times.  This is crucial to ensure that they do not exceed the maximum weekly limit on working hours as if they do, the student is working illegally and the employer is exposed to a civil penalty of up to £20,000 (increasing next year to up to £60,000!).

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Switching to work routes

Following the completion of their course, students may look to move into the Graduate visa route or they may seek sponsorship from their employer under the Skilled Worker visa.  This is an excellent way to secure the continued employment, on a full-time basis, of the student.

However, the government has recently tightened the rules on students switching to a Skilled Worker visa before they have completed their course. This also affects those applying to switch to a Skilled Worker dependant visa.

Students can now only switch if one of the following 3 circumstances apply:

  1. They have completed the course that their Student visa related to
  2. They are studying a full-time course at degree level or above with a higher education provider (with a track record of compliance), and the start of their sponsorship for the Skilled Worker visa is after the date they officially complete their course
  3. They are studying a full-time course which leads to a PhD with a higher education provider (with a track record of compliance), and the start of their sponsorship for the Skilled Worker visa is no earlier than 24 months after the start date of their PhD.

We recommend obtaining from the student written confirmation from their university that they have either completed their course or, if they are still studying, the date that their course will end.  The students will need this as part of their visa application so it makes sense for them to request it sooner rather than later.

As is often the case with the UK visa and immigration system, there are pitfalls for employers to avoid but when done correctly, the recruitment of international students can be a worthwhile recruitment technique and provide qualified and loyal members of staff.

For help avoiding the pitfalls and using the system to your advantage, please contact a member of our specialist Immigration Lawyers here.



Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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Jessica Hurwood

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