This week, Suarts, The University of the arts London Students’ Union received official approval for their application to sponsor non-British/non-EU employees. Thanks to the sponsorship licence, Suarts can now provide work visas to people that need one to stay work in the UK legally. It creates a successful example for other UK Student Unions interested in recruiting international students to replicate.
I asked Mostafa Rajaai, Culture and Diversity Officer for Suarts to tell us a little more on how and why his Student Union applied to the sponsorship licence.
“Currently, only 5 Students’ Unions in the UK have been granted a sponsorship licence, says Mostafa. Most Student Union don’t know about the process to get a sponsorship licence and think it is complicated when it is not.”
The University of the arts London Students’ Union applied to the sponsorship licence in December 2014, and three weeks later got it approved with an A rating. It took one senior staff of the Students’ Union to do the paperwork, in less than a week.
Surprisingly, what’s more complicated is not the process but getting approval from the senior staff to apply. “They are afraid of the paperwork. If the Union has a democratic mandate then it is possible for any officer to bring up the motion and convince the senior staff of the clear benefits a sponsorship licence brings.”
Mostafa created a motion that he posted and shared on Facebook. It summarises the large benefits of getting a sponsorship licence: representativity and the ability to advertise SU jobs to a bigger pool of students.
Mostafa is currently in contact with other Students’ Union to convince more to follow Suarts’ steps.
“40% of our Student Body is made of international students, and yet we only have two staff people that are non-EU. That is a problem of representation caused by tough immigration rules that any Students Union need to take seriously. And we chose to fight it back using the current framework: getting a sponsorship licence.”
The current situation of International students’ rights to work after graduation is tough and complex. Under the new immigration rules set up by the Tories, International Students in the UK can only stay work in the country if they find an employer willing to sponsor their visa, for a job that pays at least £22K.
Before that, International Students were allowed to stay work for two years after graduation without the need for a visa. It would allow enough time for employers to judge if the student they recruited was worth sponsoring.
NUS’s International Student Officer, Shreya Paudel, has been campaigning for the return of a 12-months Post-Study Work visa.
“What Mostafa Rajaai has done at SU Arts is great. This is basically doing what we can within the current legal arrangements. Still, we need to work on both: the return of the Post-Study Work mechanism; and also, getting hold of the sponsorship licences in our students’ unions.”
The sponsorship licence costs £536pds (running for four years) and requires two full time staff to take care of yearly paperwork updates. Nothing that can scare away serious students Union that consistently have to deal with sometimes heavy university administration processes.
The jobs for which the Student Union can employ have to pay at least £22K minimum a year.
Also, contrary to common beliefs, international students recruited by the Student Union are not subjected to the Resident Labour Market test. That means that International students like any British or EU students can be recruited right away if the skills and profile matches the job offer.
Suarts just got their sponsorship this January 2015. It is yet to know what will be the impact on their future recruitment campaigns and how many international students will apply to them.
“We don’t have yet international candidates aligned to recruit, but it is likely that many will start applying to open positions.
The sponsorship licence gives us a bigger pool to advertise jobs to, and offers us to be more representative of our student body. Getting the sponsorship licence was the best thing that we could do to show support and taking a stance for International students”
The NUS has launched a national campaign to support the return of the PSW and help more student Union get the sponsorship licence.