Big Four firms among those to withdraw offers to foreign graduates

29 May 2024 3 min. read
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Deloitte and KPMG are among UK-based businesses which have axed offers to foreign graduates, following a change to UK visa rules. The government has increased the salary threshold of skilled workers over the age of 26, reportedly leaving the firms in breach of the rules with their earlier offers.

Since early April 2024, the UK’s government has introduced changes to the skilled worker visa route, meaning that sponsors looking to bring in new talent from overseas must pay workers a minimum salary of £38,700. That increase is almost 50% more than the previous threshold of £26,200.

While that falls to £30,960 to those under 26, students, recent graduates or those in professional training, this has already had a major impact on the recruitment ambitions of several leading firms.

Big Four firms among those to withdraw offers to foreign graduates

Depending on region and business line, the Big Four of the consulting industry – Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – typically pay first-year graduates between £25,000 and £35,000 in the UK. This means their hiring has been directly affected by the new visa rules.

As reported by the Financial Times, this has led to KPMG revoking job offers to some foreign graduates in the UK. The Big Four firm had hired 1,400 graduates and apprentices last year, and will now fill its vacant graduate places with people who are already entitled to work in the UK, according to sources close to the story. As well as UK graduates, that includes graduates who had worked in the UK before the rule-change, who can still be hired at the old rate.

Graduates who had their offers revoked were reportedly informed they could not defer their places to 2025. They could potentially request to transfer to a different graduate programme in 2024, but only if applications were still open on the firm’s website and were “eligible for sponsorship”.

KPMG has since been joined by Deloitte in taking this kind of action. It has since been reported in the British press that the Big Four firm has followed suit, and pulled roughly 35 foreign graduate job offers in its autumn cohort.

For some onlookers, these job offers being pulled raises multiple concerns about the future of UK industry. Some have suggested that the changes would prevent businesses recruiting top talent from outside the UK, and could lead to larger organisations basing employees elsewhere in Europe as a result. In turn, this may see highly skilled individuals begin to look elsewhere when choosing a career destination.

The employers also came in for significant criticism for being too “cheap” to upgrade the pay to comply with rule changes while still honouring their offers to the graduates. But some experts caution that it may be more difficult than that.

Speaking to industry news site People Management, Bates Wells partner Rachel Mathieson explained that revoking offers from foreign graduates will “inherently come with risk”. This is because having a policy where firms will not hire someone because they require a sponsor licence “could lead to indirect discrimination claims that will require objective justification”. But she added that on the other hand, were employers to proceed through the sponsorship route and hire sponsored staff on higher salaries than their existing workforce, “this could lead to equal pay claims as well as discrimination claims.”

The changes have impacted hiring beyond the professional services sphere, too. Reports from the Financial Times also confirmed that HSBC had cut a number of offers to foreign graduates, particularly impacting “digital innovation” graduates who were due to work in its Sheffield office. The hires in question had reportedly attended several welcome events, had “work buddies” assigned to them, and were set to join in July.

One of those who had their offer withdrawn told the Financial Times, “I had three other offers that I rejected… Having spent £50,000 on attending university in the UK, I now have to go back to my home country.”