Virginia, US

As we come to the end of the immigration process for this year’s graduate programmes, it’s time to reflect and note learnings for the forthcoming year. Many large multi-national companies now send their graduates to complete a training programme in the United States before they start working full time in the UK, which can add an additional level of immigration complexity. Further details on the US perspective can be found here. There are many differences between the two locations, but the key for a smooth immigration process in either jurisdiction is undoubtedly forward planning.

Forward planning

My recommendation is that start planning at least a year before to ensure advertising is completed compliantly, processes from the last programme are reviewed and revised and any forthcoming changes explored to ensure their impact is taken into account. Whilst the law can change very quickly, a close dialogue between the business and immigration advisors allows for short notice revisions. Furthermore, information gathering from the selected graduates early on in the process is extremely useful and means quick action can be taken should any changes be announced.

Forward planning can also help to manage the Tier 2 (General) Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship (RCoS) request process. Whilst these requests can only be submitted up to three months prior to the graduate’s start date, requesting in the first month means you have a second chance in the event the cap is met and your initial application rejected.

Legal requirements

Putting aside the standard Tier 2 (General) skill and salary level requirements, there are consistent issues that come up every year for graduate programmes.

The first, and most frustrating, is with regards to graduates who are in the UK studying on a Tier 4 student visa. To be able to switch to Tier 2 (General) in the UK, without the need for a Resident Labour Market Test or RCoS, the graduate’s degree must have been conferred. This means that they must have received their final results. Timings vary depending on the university in question, but most often is mid to end of July for Bachelors degrees. If the graduate does not yet have their final results then they cannot switch, which often presents timing issues. Graduates will either need to start work on a temporary contract on their Tier 4 visa or consider an out of country application. Forward planning in these situations is critical.

The second issue relates to graduates applying from outside of the UK meeting the English language requirement. Unless the graduate is a national of a majority English-speaking country, they  must have a degree taught in English or they will have to take an approved Secure English Language Test (SELT). However, with the closure of the Points Based System calculator in April this year, all degrees must now be verified UK NARIC. Obtaining the required documents for the UK NARIC confirmation can cause delays since the final degree certificate and transcripts are required. If the university is in a non-majority English speaking country, obtaining a medium of instruction letter can also be problematic. The UK NARIC application itself can then take weeks. It is therefore of utmost importance that verification is requested as early as possible so that the graduate can take a SELT instead if required.

Practical points

As well as the legal requirements, there are also some practical points that come up regularly and should be taken into consideration. The first that comes up time and time again is having sufficient passport pages for out of country applications. The requirement is that the individual must have one page that is blank of visa endorsements on both sides. This is extremely important and I am seeing more and more applications rejected or refused for this very reason.

Another issue that frequently comes up with graduates is travel. Many graduates will understandably book holiday after they have completed their degrees to maximise the time before they start working. However, this may impact on visa timelines or their ability to submit a Tier 2 (General) application from within the UK. If a Tier 4 student travels after course completion, it is unlikely they will be permitted re-entry other than as a visitor and any Tier 2 (General) application would then need to be submitted from overseas with an RCoS. Warnings to graduates should be made from the outset to ensure any travel arrangements are flexible.

If you have any questions about the UK visa process for graduates, please contact me at asuarez-neves@fragomen.com.