Although the UK’s Graduate Visa Route could be the solution to the skills shortages facing the country, a new policy note by Education Policy Institute (HEPI) shows that many UK employers are unaware of the post-study working rights of international students.
This is bad news for thousands of Nigerian graduates in the UK who studied in the country with hopes of getting a post-study visa as a means to eventually stay back in the country as permanent residents.
About the Graduate Visa Route: Introduced in 2021, the Graduate Visa Route enables international students to work in the UK for two years (or three years for doctorate students).
The visa route has no wage or employment restrictions and reduces hiring bureaucracy for employers. Unfortunately, the HEPI policy note cited above said it has only been consciously used by a very small number (3%) of UK employers.
Benefits of the Graduate route: Linda Cowan, Managing Director of Kaplan International Pathways, said 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 hiring them permanently.
“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,” she added.
What you should know: A significant portion of UK employers avoid hiring people from abroad due to the hassle, cost, and time involved. But many of them have not heard of the route that makes it so easy for them to hire foreign graduate students.
Only a handful of employers (3%), while a bigger proportion (27%) say they are unaware of it and a further 20% say they have not used the route and have no plans to do so.
Some of the employees surveyed in the HEPI report indicated that they are unsure of the new scheme, others are concerned that it is quality controlled, while others have not heard of it and assume that perhaps it restores one of the many benefits taken away by Brexit.
Alex Hall-Chen, Principal Policy Advisor for Sustainability, Skills, and Employment at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said:
“This research highlights a lack of knowledge among many employers about the visa, and we would encourage the government to work closely with business representative organisations to raise awareness about its benefits.”
Nick Hillman, the 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”.
In addition, he indicated that 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.
What it means for Nigerians: The HEPI research indicates that a good number of Nigerians who graduated from UK universities and have earned a Graduate Visa automatically, may be struggling to secure proper jobs.
Many of these graduates have had to secure odd jobs as a result of this to survive amidst the high cost of living and inflation that the UK is currently experiencing.
As students most had already juggled student life with odd jobs as earlier reported hoping to secure a good job upon graduation to achieve financial stability. However, this is not so from the look of things.
But as suggested by Alex Hall-Chen, awareness needs to be raised to enable these employers to embrace it to enjoy the benefits. This will enable the scheme to be utilized effectively.