Students, lawyers await clarity on UK Skilled Worker visa salary threshold

There was concern when the UK Home Secretary announced that the skilled worker visa’s minimum salary threshold would be upped from £26,200 per year to £38,700 per year for those not on the Immigration Salary List – a salary many have described as difficult to obtain.

“What we’re seeing is people asking a lot more questions,” Maryem Ahmed, an immigration solicitor at OTS Solicitors in London, told The PIE News.

“We’re seeing this from all different angles, because [students] will be asking if they’re affected by this not knowing because they’ve read something or heard something in the news and don’t understand it.”

A discount to the current salary threshold for skilled workers – which was pointed out to students on social media by Farhoon Asim, founder of International Hustlers – is available, which would see international graduates be able to get a job with a minimum salary of £20,960 or 70% of the “going rate” for that occupation for a maximum of four years – called the new entrant threshold.

The conditions are that the graduate needs to be either:

  • Under 26 years of age
  • Be a recent graduate (in the past two years) or about to graduate and is on a student visa
  • Get a job offer in a postdoctoral position in an occupation like chemical science, physical science or HE teaching professionals – eligible occupations are listed on the Home Office website
  • The applicant is working towards chartered status or full registration in a professional body for the job in which they get sponsorship (a lawyer or accountant, for example)
  • Currently be on the Graduate route visa

However, there has been some confusion as to whether this discount will remain in place for international graduates when the salary threshold rises on April 11.

“In December when they clarified these points… they recognised that new entrants to the labour market could not demand a salary of £38,700, and there would be a discount, as there is now,” commented Thal Vashishta, managing director for corporate immigration at Paragon Law.

“What they haven’t done is committed to what that discount might look like [for international students].”

While the MAC rapid review on the Immigration Salary List, released on February 23, details that a threshold of £30,960 will apply to occupations on the 21-strong list, it does not detail this exactly for new entrants coming through from a student visa or a Graduate Route visa.

The MAC Rapid Review into the ISL. Photo: MAC

The ISL also only represents 8% of job roles eligible for the Skilled Worker route by employment.

“The government has announced that, for now, the new entrant discount available for those aged 26 and
under will continue. In its current form, this discount provides a 30% discount on the occupation-specific
threshold and a 20% discount on the general salary threshold, the higher of which must be paid,” the MAC review read – without detailing whether students and graduates over this age, usually eligible for the new entrant discount, would be eligible.

“What they haven’t done is committed to what that discount might look like [for international students]”

“It’s a case of ‘watch this space’ and wait until these things are announced, and then you try to get your head around it to explain how it’s going to impact the student. And in between all of this, the Immigration Health Surcharge was increased,” Ahmed noted.

Another caveat of using the New Entrants visa after using the Graduate Route visa for two years could mean that half of the time that a graduate could be sponsored for could be made null and void.

However, it was stressed by those The PIE spoke to that the Graduate Route is a still a vital cog in the machine of getting international graduates into the workforce.

“My clients, one of them being a very large optometry company, depend on the Graduate Route to be able to employ graduates at the lower salary,” Vashishta said.

The MAC review also said that employers may see an “increased incentive” to use the 26-and-under discount due to higher salary thresholds across the board: “We encourage the government to consider this impact of the rule changes on the use of new entrant discount.”

Vashishta said that if new entrant salary thresholds rise for international graduates – or even if the government were to introduce Graduate Route salary thresholds – in order to avoid discrimination issues, it could create wage inflation, something he “doesn’t believe the government wants”.

“My clients, one of them being a very large optometry company, depend on the Graduate Route”

“The Home Office needs to decide what should the general salary threshold be for new entrants quite urgently to give students, universities and employers certainty,” he urged, something especially important given an impending review of the Graduate Route expected soon.

Brian Bell, chair of the MAC said in the covering letter regarding the ISL that it was still awaiting commission on the review of the Graduate Route.

One alternative suggested by solicitor from City Legal, Adarsh Girijadevi, was the Temporary Worker Government Authorised Exchange program.

“[It’s] designed for internships, [and] remains accessible to international graduates worldwide with the salary
requirement pegged at the National Minimum Wages in the UK,” he elaborated.

The Home Office has confirmed that further Immigration Rules will be published on March 14.

Sign the petition asking the government to commit to maintaining the Graduate Route visa here. 

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