Significant reforms have been made on switching from Student into work routes in-country, and on Students being accompanied by dependants.
Students switching into work routes (including as a dependant)
With effect from 15:00 BST on 17 July 2023, Students are only allowed to switch into work routes (including but not limited to the Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility, Global Talent, Scale-up, Government Authorised Exchange and Creative Worker routes) if one of the following applies:
The Student has completed the course of study they are sponsored for; or
The Student is studying a degree level or higher course and their Certificate of Sponsorship shows a start date no earlier than their course completion date; or
The Student is studying a PhD and their Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) shows a start date no earlier than 24 months after the start of the PhD course.
Students must also meet similar requirements if they wish to switch into being a dependent partner of someone already on a work route. This change appears to recognise that the already very restrictive Rules on student dependants mean that some partners may come to the UK on separate Student visas. It is now more logistically difficult for such partners to transition into a work route in-country if either of them has not completed their course. A partner who defers becoming a dependant in a work route that leads to settlement will have their eligibility for settlement delayed, however they will have to weigh this up against the disruption and cost of obtaining fresh entry clearance.
On the question of how to evidence course completion, updated sponsor guidance simply states that the sponsor must ‘carefully check’ if a proposed applicant is eligible to switch in-country. However, updated caseworker guidance suggests that the submission of a results transcript or letter from the institution confirming course completion should clarify the position if the caseworker is unsure whether the switching criteria are met. For PhD students, caseworkers will use the course start date listed on their Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies to check whether there is at least 24 months between the start of the course and the start date stated on the CoS.
The practical impact of the switching restrictions for work route sponsors is that they will either need to defer an affected applicant’s start date until they can meet one of the three conditions above, or make arrangements for the applicant to depart the UK and apply for fresh entry clearance. Students who are eligible to become a partner dependant of a person on a work route but are ineligible to switch would also need to make a fresh entry clearance application.
The Home Office does have discretion to waive switching criteria outside the Rules, however this is normally reserved for exceptional circumstances.
New restrictions on Student dependants
For students on postgraduate courses starting from 1 January 2024 (and subject to exceptions for government-sponsored Students and children born in the UK), dependants will only be allowed if the Student is on a PhD or other doctoral course, or is a post-graduate course confirmed by the sponsor as being a research-based higher degree.
A definition of ‘research-based higher degree’ has been added to the Immigration Rules, and means ‘a postgraduate programme comprising a research component (including a requirement to produce original wAdditions to shortage occupation list