Your UK business has come to rely on the talents of an international student.  Smart, hard-working, and reliable, you’re not sure how you coped without the 20 hours a week they put in for you alongside their studies.

What’s more, they see their future with you.  They want to wrap up their studies early to work for you full-time.

No doubt this is appealing.  You’ve trained them well and they know your business inside-out.  The thought of starting from scratch, recruitment, training, writing out a job advert for Indeed…

So you’ve Googled:

Can I Sponsor a Student as a Skilled Worker?

Yes, but things have changed.

Previously, internationals on a student visa, (sometimes called T4 or Tier 4), could drop out without completing their course and switch to a Skilled Worker visa, provided they had an employer with a sponsor licence willing to sponsor them.

The big change this week is that students must now generally complete their course before starting full-time work for a sponsoring employer, following changes to the Immigration Rules effective from 17 July 2023.

There are still plenty of ways to benefit from international student labour, but watch the do-s and don’t-s below.

First: Why the Change?

The Home Office might suggest that students switching to the Skilled Worker route have been exploiting something of a loophole, which is now to be closed.

But there’s also an argument that the loophole – if it is one – was put there deliberately by a government wanting to counteract the chilling effects of Brexit, by liberalising work immigration more generally.

Whatever the case, the new changes certainly represent another effort by the Government to force down net migration – that’s the difference between people emigrating from, and people immigrating to, the UK.  Recent figures showed net migration reached record levels in 2023, and Sunak and Braverman will be watching that number anxiously ahead of an anticipated election in 2024.

So early next year, when they haven’t stopped the boats, and no one’s been sent to Rwanda, perhaps they will point to the net migration figure and say – well at least we stopped those student switchers.

Sponsoring Students: Do-s and Don’t-s:

If you’re wanting to sponsor a student switcher, there’s a few things you now need to bear in mind.


  • Do apply for a sponsor licence as soon as possible, if you don’t have one already. This is the first step and it can take a while. Applications normally take up to eight weeks to be decided, unless you pay an extra £500 for Priority Service.

You can apply for an undefined Certificate of Sponsorship at the same time as you apply for the licence.  All being well, this will allow you to sponsor your student before their student visa expires, so they won’t have to leave the UK.

  • Do watch your dates. The start date on the undefined Certificate of Sponsorship must be no earlier than the student’s course completion date.

This means that you can set everything up prior to the end of the course, so it all falls into place after they graduate.

Where an international student has completed a course lasting 12 months or longer, they normally have a four-month window between the end date of the course and the expiry date on their visa.  This is your four-month window to get them sponsored, but the earlier you start lining everything up, the better.

  • Do continue to benefit from financial incentives to sponsor a student:

Immigration Skills Charge (ISC)

The ISC exemption for the sponsoring employer of a student switcher doesn’t appear to have changed.  It’s a significant saving of up to £1,820 for small businesses, and £5,000 for medium or large businesses.

Reduction of Minimum Salary Requirements

A student switcher will often be a new entrant, and their employer can still benefit from lower minimum salary thresholds.

  • Do make use of the Graduate visa, if time is against you. An international student who has already completed their studies can apply to switch to a Graduate visa lasting up to two years. Note that they must complete their studies before they can apply for a Graduate visa.
  • Do continue to recruit and employ, for up to 20 hours a week, international students during their course of study. This hasn’t changed.
  • Do consider legal advice. Switching a student into the Skilled Worker route is likely to become even more technical. Contact the expert Immigration team at Truth Legal to find out how we can help.


  • Don’t allow or encourage an international student to drop out of their course of study on the promise of being able to switch quickly to a work visa.

This used to be fairly common practice, but we’ve already seen a work visa refused on this basis, just this week.

If a student drops out their visa will be cut short (official terms: cancelled, or sometimes curtailed).  They will probably have to leave the UK within 60 days, complicating matters for them and for you.

  • Don’t overlook the other aspects of applying for a sponsor licence. There’s lots to consider, even without the issue of sponsoring students. Truth Legal can advise on issues such as compliance, the minimum salary requirement, job titles, advertising, and more.

A Final Note on Dependants

From 1 January 2024, international students will no longer be allowed to bring dependants with them to the UK, with limited exceptions.

And from now, international students are required to complete their studies before they can apply for permission to stay in the UK as the dependant of a Skilled Worker.

It’s also worth noting that the minimum salary threshold for a Skilled Worker has increased. This is only applicable in circumstances where the student, you intend to sponsor, may not be considered a new entrant. It will increase on 4 April 2024 to £38,700.

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Catherine Reynolds
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