"It is something that is on our radar"
It is reported that more overseas people are exploiting the UK student visa scheme in order to work rather than study.
Upon their arrival in the UK, international students are dropping out soon after enrolment in order to accept employment offers in the care sector.
This comes as changes to the skilled worker visa system mean that applicants are no longer required to hold a degree-level qualification to apply.
Students who can secure a job offer from an employer approved by the Home Office can then apply to switch from the student visa to the skilled worker visa immediately, without the need to complete their degree.
There is a growing trend of overseas immigration consultants using universities as a stepping stone to help clients enter the UK.
Afterwards, they switch to care jobs before they are required to pay full tuition fees.
This route offers a cheaper and faster pathway to full-time employment in the UK compared to the graduate route – which requires students to pay expensive course fees and maintenance for the duration of their course, before entering the jobs market.
Although this is a legitimate immigration pathway, it will cause chaos with university finances as it consumes the international student population before they graduate.
Non-continuation costs the UK higher education sector more than £300 million per year, and more than 100 universities are each losing more than £1 million annually in undergraduate tuition fees alone from students who drop out, according to pre-pandemic HESA data.
The skilled worker visa, formerly known as the Tier 2 visa, was redesigned to make applications smoother, including a lowering of the salary threshold and the removal of the resident labour market test.
If approved, candidates can work in the UK for up to five years before applying to extend their visa or apply for permanent residency.
A UK university source told The PIE:
“We are seeing a growing number of students transfer to Tier 2 [skilled worker visa].
“We have seen a number from September intake [do this] already, there are certainly more students arriving in the UK and then quickly transitioning.
“It is something that is on our radar, and subsequently we’re putting more steps in place to try and mitigate this within our credibility interviews and also our compliance policies.
“We do try and ask students what their plans are if they decide to leave UCB, but often they become very disengaged by this stage [so it is hard to track].
“We keep an eye on the early indicators, such as their location and also attendance to intercept students who are not active as early as possible.”
Although the latest immigration statistics do not state how many people switched visas, they show a 179% increase in skilled worker visas granted in human health and social care activities in Q3 year-on-year.
Successful recipients grew from 7,711 in Q3 2021 to 21,543 in Q3 2022.
This period correlates to the main autumn university intake in the UK and shows the biggest spike of skilled worker visas granted in the year.
There is also a correlation to the January intake with a 67% increase year on year in Q1 with 11,139 visas granted in 2022. These numbers exclude applicants who have applied to extend an existing visa.
Higher education leaders may be confused by the increasing drop-out rates from international applicants but it is believed that the visa exploit is massive among Indian students.
According to reports, Indian students are applying for student visas, taking advantage of the UK’s fast visa processing times.
Upon arriving in the UK, they then switch visas as it is a faster route into full-time employment.
Some students are even submitting fraudulent visa applications, submitting fake documents.
This has been seen in other countries.
In Australia, the Department of Home Affairs detected approximately 600 fraud cases from the Haryana and Punjab regions of India that had been submitted via agents.
Troy Williams, chief executive of Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, said:
“It would appear that the low-level of fraudulent applications are being driven by unscrupulous student agents that are not only targeting those wishing to study in Australia, but also North America and Western Europe.”
Meanwhile, in Germany, nearly 15% of Indian students submit fake documents when applying for student visas.
Earlier in 2022, New Delhi police arrested agents and US visa applicants for using fake work experience documents and deposit funds for proof of finances for US applications.