On 20 April 2023, the University and College Union (“UCU”) began its marking boycott across the UK. This has meant that 145 institutions have been impacted and that marking and assessment of things like exam papers have been limited, leading to a delay in students getting their results.
Additionally, students currently in the UK on student visas may intend to switch to a graduate visa upon completion of their studies. However, it is a requirement of the graduate visa that an applicant has successfully completed an eligible course of study in the UK, which may now take longer to demonstrate for some students.
Together, these requirements can cause concern. Megan Huws and Alex Christen explore how these changes impact employers and how they should deal with them.
While the boycott has now ended, the impact is that some students may have waited longer for their papers to be marked, meaning delays in confirming and completing their studies. This will mean student visa holders have to wait longer before they can apply for a graduate visa. Overseas students find themselves in a challenging situation, as they must apply for their graduate visa or another immigration permit if they wish to stay in the UK beyond the expiration of their student visa.
The Home Office has addressed these concerns by assuring that it will exercise discretion and accept graduate route applications even before the applicants receive their results, as long as the results are received within 8 weeks of applying. This means that students can temporarily apply for a graduate visa with pending results or degree approval if it is a result of the boycott.
Additionally, students who do not know when they will receive their results due to the boycott (and are concerned they won’t receive their results within the 8-week window) will be able to apply to extend their student visa permission while they wait for their results. They will be exceptionally exempt from meeting the academic progression requirements for the student visa extension, even though all other requirements must be met at the date of the application. This rule is aimed at those students who eventually intend to switch to the graduate route, not the Skilled Worker route or to any other course.
The boycott comes at a time of change for the student route in general. Students can no longer switch to sponsored work routes until they have finished their course of studies, and from next year they can no longer bring their dependents with them to the UK when they start their studies. Understandably students may be confused about what these changes mean for them in practice and should seek advice and support from their educational institution.
Employers can employ those on student visas and often employers will want to keep employing students once they have finished their course. The graduate route provides a helpful option as it allows the employer to continue employing a student who has made a graduate visa application, while their application is being decided (provided the application is made before the student visa expires). However, the marking boycott has caused uncertainties around this process. Unless the student can extend their student visa or unless the Home Office can hold on to the application until the results are received, the student may not be able to continue working for the employer, at least in the short term.
Equally, the recent changes to the immigration rules limit the student’s ability to switch to the skilled worker route.
The marking boycott has meant that employers may have to wait longer for students to complete their courses before they can be sponsored. Sponsors need to carefully check if the student is eligible to switch to a skilled worker visa by requesting a results transcript or letter from the academic institution confirming course completion. They then need to notify the Home Office, by the date of the application, that they have successfully completed the course of study. For PhD students, sponsors need to obtain written confirmation from the institution that the student has completed at least 24 months of their course.
These considerations are still applicable and important, and the relaxation of the rules to take into account the marking boycott will help students continue to make the applications they need to enable employers to retain them.
The Home Office has made it clear that this is a discretionary arrangement and not a concession, therefore these are likely to be temporary provisions designed to mitigate the instability caused by the boycotts. Employers and sponsors should be aware of further updates regarding graduate visas to ensure that they comply with the latest requirements before employing or continuing to employ overseas students and graduates.
If you would like to discuss these changes or require bespoke immigration advice, get in touch with our team of expert immigration lawyers.