Recruiting international graduates: How employers can help Tier 4 visa holders switch to Tier 2
UK employers are permitted to employ Tier 4 visa holders within certain restrictions and where the individual’s visa conditions allow.
For example, where the Tier 4 visa holder is still studying, they may carry out paid employment for a limited number of hours per week during term time, or on a full-time basis during holidays.
If you are looking to onboard a Tier 4 visa holder after they have finished their studies, you will need to ensure that their immigration status is in order and permits the type of employment you are offering.
There are a number of visa options and schemes open to Tier 4 holders wanting to stay in the UK to work after their studies.
In most cases, it’s likely they will be looking at the Tier 2 visa route.
Tier 4 visa holders are permitted to switch to the Tier 2 visa category without their new employer having to undertake a resident labour market test – provided they have achieved a UK bachelor’s or master’s degree, or a professional graduate diploma of education or at least one year of a PhD, and attained qualifying employment.
Removing the requirement to carry out a resident labour market test – ie checking whether there is any UK or EEA national who could fill the role – is a clear benefit for employers. Usually a pre-requisite to recruiting a Tier 2 worker, this streamlines the process considerably, reducing application processing – all else being in order – to a matter of days rather than weeks.
Despite this procedural concession, making the switch from Tier 4 to tier 2 isn’t necessarily straightforward.
Tier 4 to Tier 2 – who is eligible?
Tier 4 students can apply to switch to Tier 2 from within the UK if they currently have:
- Tier 4 (General) Student visa or a student visa issued before March 2009; or
- Tier 4 Dependant visa or Student Dependant visa issued before March 2009; or
- Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme visa.
Tier 4 visa holders may be eligible to switch from a Tier 4 to Tier 2 (General) visa where they satisfy the following criteria:
- The individual must have studied and completed a UK bachelor’s or master’s degree, a postgraduate certificate in education or professional graduate diploma of education, or undertaken at least one year of a PhD within the current continuous period of leave (ie they haven’t left the UK and submitted a new entry clearance application to return since being awarded their degree.)
- From 30thMarch 2019, eligible Tier 4 (General) visa students can apply to switch into the Tier 2 category either once their course is completed or up to 3 months before their expected completion date of their course. This is a change from the previous rule requiring them to wait until completion of their course.
- They must have a confirmed offer of employment from a UK employer who holds a Tier 2 sponsor licence and are only permitted to start employment after their course has been successfully completed.
- The role they are being offered must meet the minimum skill and salary levels of one of the Standard Occupation Codes. Note that a Tier 2 switch from Tier 4 is considered to be a ‘new entrant’ (rather than an ‘experienced worker’). As at March 2018, the Tier 2 minimum salary threshold for new entrants is £20,800 per annum. The level for researcher posts is slightly higher at £21,600 per annum.
- They must meet the English language requirements, Tier 4 students should almost certainly have met these requirements already through their UK qualification or their original Tier 4 application.
- They must prove they have sufficient funds to maintain them self for the first month, or the employer must certify maintenance on their behalf.
- They must apply to switch from Tier 4 into Tier 2 from within the UK before their Tier 4 visa expires. Note also that rule changes in January 2018 permit Tier 4 visa holders on non-PhD courses to apply to switch to Tier 2 as soon as they finish their course without having to wait until they have received their final results.
Employers: supporting Tier 2 recruits
With your sponsor licence granted, you are required to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship for each individual you wish to hire under the Tier 2 route.
The individual then makes their visa application to the Home Office using the CoS. This has to be submitted within 3 months of the CoS being issued and no more than 3 months before the intended start of employment.
Importantly, the CoS is not transferrable between individuals. You have to issue a new CoS for each individual applicant.
We recommend assisting the applicants with their Tier 2 application to the Home Office, ensuring their paperwork is all present and correct, that the correct fees are paid, and generally helping to avoid errors that could otherwise cause delay or issues with their ability to join your organisation.
The documentary evidence element of the application in particular can be difficult for applicants to satisfy without guidance.
To switch from Tier 4 to Tier 2 inside the UK, the applicant will need to evidence they have completed and been awarded their degree. This would be an original certificate of award or an original academic reference from their university or academic institution containing specific details. Generally, applicants who have only completed part of a course will not be eligible to switch into Tier 2, for example, two years of a three year course.
If you are an A rated sponsor, you can state on the CoS that you will maintain and accommodate the applicant to the end of the first month of employment in the UK (to a minimum of £945). If this is not the case, the applicant must show that they have held at least £945 for a consecutive period of 90 days by providing a bank statement ending no later than one month before the date of application.
If successful, the Tier 2 visa will initially be granted for three years or five years if the employment contract is permanent, or for the duration of the fixed-term contract where shorter than three or five years.
As a UK sponsor licence holder, you will be operating under a number of immigration compliance duties in respect of your Tier 2 workers. This includes a duty to notify the Home Office if there is unexplained absence or the individual leaves your employment early. Failure to meet these duties could result in penalties, impacting your ability to employ Tier 2 workers.
Advice for employers
If you are looking to hire a Tier 4 visa holder by switching to the Tier 2 visa scheme, there will be many advantages of providing practical support and guidance to your applicant through the Home Office process.
If you have any questions relating to switching to the Tier 2 category or any wider business immigration related query, please get in touch.