Should Indian students in the UK dropout and switch to skilled worker visa? Experts weigh in – Free Press Journal

Changes in the eligibility criteria for the United Kingdom’s Skilled Worker Visa are set to have massive implications on the international students coming into the country, especially Indians. 
As per the new rules, international students can secure a job from an employer approved by the UK Home Office and then switch over to the Skilled Worker Visa while not having a degree-level qualification. 
1,17,695 study visas were sponsored to Indian students in one year till June 2022, an increase of 215% compared to 37,396 visas sponsored in 2019, according to the British High Commission. The focus has now shifted to how big of an advantage this will be for Indian students who usually stay back in the UK for work opportunities. 
Not quality jobs but enough to sustain your expenses
The UK, which has primarily seen its healthcare sector take a hit with labour shortages, especially post-pandemic has employed many international students in the field to fill the gap often at the detriment of their academic potential. 
“Students should be aware that the kind of jobs that they would get without a higher education degree will not be high quality and high paying jobs, but instead jobs which would pay them just enough money to make ends meet,” said Dr. Karan Gupta, Founder of the Karan Gupta Education Foundation, who consults students and candidates who wish to study abroad. 
Mismatch between what you aim to learn and work on  
A lower wage requirement and the elimination of the resident labour market test were two major changes made to the skilled worker visa, formerly known as the Tier 2 visa, to simplify application processes. Candidates who are accepted may work in the UK for a maximum of five years before requesting an extension of their visa or requesting permanent residence.
Though the process is completely legal and legitimate, concerns have been raised about the effect it might have on the career trajectory of candidates. 
“I think it is important to understand that when students opt for skilled worker visas for jobs in care homes and the like, it speaks of a certain mismatch between the job role and their qualifications. A student enrolled in a marketing or finance degree brings a lot of hard skills and soft skills to the table, and when they pivot into a job at a care home, they are underutilising those skills and knowledge,” stated Tripti Maheshwari, the Co-founder, and Director of Student Circus, UK, a platform which helps international students with their career needs. 
Misconceptions about the new rules can lead to wrongful decisions by students who are planning to switch to a skilled worker visa once they are in the UK. 
“Skilled worker visa will be only available if you are offered a job by an employer which is part of the scheme and there is a high risk that candidates who do not have a personal understanding of the UK employment market may significantly overestimate their chances of securing such a role. Many incoming students also underestimate the cost of living in the UK or have an unrealistic idea of salaries,”  said Sam Burney, recruitment specialist and Regional Manager, India at Falmouth University, who added that universities can help students clear certain misunderstandings. 
Rule changes as curbs on international students in pipeline 
While the UK immigration statistics do not showcase how many individuals have switched to the skilled worker visa route, the available numbers do indicate a 179% year-over-year rise in the number of skilled worker visas issued for human health and social care activities in Q3 year-on-year. In Q3 2022, there were 21,543 successful beneficiaries compared to 7,711 in Q3 2021, according to UK based- Pie news, which caters to international education analysis. 
The increase in skilled worker visas coupled with the increasing number of international students has also resulted in the Rishi Sunak-led UK government pondering on a decision that could lead to curbs on individuals who wish to come and study in the UK unless enrolled in top universities. Media reports on the No.10’s plans come amid the reinstatement of Suella Braverman as the UK Home Secretary, who has raised eyebrows for her controversial comments about Indians overstaying their visas, heavy influx of international students, and prevalence of student visa dependents in the UK. 
Experts believe changes in skilled worker visas can add fuel to the fire of an already tumultuous future of international students in the UK.
“At a time when genuine students are finding it hard to get into universities in the UK because of the surge in demand, every student who does this switch has already denied a genuine student the opportunity to study at that institution, the university has issued the CAS to someone who has no intention to be a student. In the process the British Government could make it tougher for other students,” said Lakshmi Iyer, Managing Director, India at SI-UK, who urged for clear pathways to be shown by the Home Office and not allow shortcuts. 
UK universities make their stands clear amid fears over dropout rates 
The UK Higher Education sector is already turning out to be one of the biggest losers with non-continuation of courses as they lose more than 300 million Euros per year with more than 100 universities losing 1 million Euros annually in undergraduate tuition fees alone from students who discontinue courses, according to pre-pandemic data by Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). 
Universities, who are already impacted by such a loss, have already made their stand clear on the changes. 
“Falmouth University is certainly mindful of the risks of dropouts if incoming students join without full commitment to the study path. UK universities are working hard to ensure we are admitting students with the necessary zeal. For example, many institutions will be conducting additional interviews with candidates and enhancing their document verification processes. This takes time so candidates should plan and apply early,” stated Burney. 
University of Warwick website also notes that students seeking to convert to the skilled worker visa “must have completed (or be applying no more than 3 months before they are projected to complete) the programme” yet this guidance would appear to be no longer valid.
Moreover dropping out would also mean severe repercussions for students, according to experts. 
“Many international students pay the university fees at one go, that is when they start their education. Hence, the universities would have received the full tuition fees and even if the student drops out, the university would get paid in full,” stated Karan. 
Former students ask newcomers to stay cautious 
Though the process can give the impression that it makes life easier for international students, who don’t have to indulge in academics, the ones who have already finished their studies in the country have a different opinion about such a move. 
“It can be difficult to change your job for the next two years or so on a skilled worker visa while once you get a visa post-graduation, it’s not necessary to have a sponsorship,” said Hrithik Bhate, who is currently in his placement year at Nottingham Trent University and working as a Marketing Executive in the UK. 
Graduate visa route the way to go? 
After receiving their degree, international students can stay in the UK and work or look for work at any skill level for two years under the Graduate route, or three years in the case of doctorate students. Something that opens up more opportunities for students, experts believe. 
“The two or three years (depending on the degree level) under the Graduate Route visa allow flexibility for graduates and fledgling professionals in such sectors to kickstart their careers, work as self-employed individuals, and work on contractual, short-term projects, as is the norm in these industries. The networks they build during this time can be a stepping stone for them, even after the two or three years are up, they can leverage this experience and network to work with these people remotely,” stated Maheshwari. 
Visas come with a price tag
Skilled Worker Visas do come with a price attached as the job aspirants have to pay a standard fee ranging from £625 to £1,423 depending on their circumstances, along with 624 euros per year as a healthcare surcharge.
 Job aspirants would also have to pay a standard fee depending on how long their stay in the UK is. If an individual is in the UK for up to three years, they will have to pay £719 per person and ones planning to stay more than three years could pay £1,423 per person. 
You must also demonstrate that you have the resources to support yourself if you have been in the UK for less than a year; typically, this means having at least £1,270 in your bank account.


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