The UK Graduate Visa route is a relatively new option for international students who, after graduation, wish to remain and work in the UK for a period of two or three years.
It is an attractive alternative to seeking a full Work Visa straight after graduation. This is mainly because it has relaxed immigration criteria, plus it permits applicants the chance to look for work and engage in work experience without needing to meet strict salary and sponsorship criteria.
The following expert guide covers everything you need to know about the Graduate Visa, whether you are an international student yourself or an employer looking to hire fresh, new talent.
The UK is home to hundreds of thousands of international students who flock to England, Scotland and Wales to enjoy some of the most prestigious educational establishments the UK has to offer that are renowned around the world.
However, the immigration rules were fraught with difficulties for international graduates when it came to remaining in the UK post-graduation. Employers similarly were struggling to hire graduate recruits due to sponsorship requirements and costly fees.
To mitigate against a ‘brain drain’ of talent departing from the UK, the UK Government established a new route to encourage well-educated and promising talent the option to remain in the UK: the Graduate Visa route.
Also referred to as the Post-study Work Visa, this new route permits individuals that opportunity to find work and, ultimately, to build a career on British soil for a period of two years. Some, such as PhD students, are able to benefit from a three year Graduate Visa instead to find relevant employment.
The UK Government hopes that this route will encourage international talent to remain in the UK permanently and will diversify the workforce with innovative and new skills.
The route came into effect 1 July 2021 as part of the new post-Brexit immigration rules in the UK.
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) meant that Freedom of Movement between the UK and EEA countries has been scrapped and replaced with a points-based immigration system. However, these new barriers to remain in the country presented new problems for EEA graduates in the UK who suddenly faced the loss of the right to remain in favour of a strict and expensive visa model. Thus, the Post-study Work Visa was created to make the process easier for overseas nationals to remain in the country once their Student Visa expires.
Similarly, UK-based businesses and employers can hire international talent on a temporary or trial basis for work experience without needing to sponsor their visa or satisfy strict immigration requirements.
It is important to note that fees are set by the Home Office. There are no discounts and rarely are fee waivers issued to applicants.
At the moment, a Graduate Visa costs £700. However, this fee only covers the visa itself. You will need to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) with your visa fee, too. This charge is mandatory as it ensures you will be able to have access to healthcare with the NHS throughout the duration of your stay in the UK. The IHS costs £624 per person and per year of stay, and must be paid for up-front.
For a two-year Graduate Visa, this comes to £700 (visa) + £1,248 (IHS) = £1,948.
For a three-year Graduate Visa, this comes to £700 (visa) + £1,872 (IHS) = £2,572.
There are also charges related to your immigration application, such as lawyer fees and the cost to register your biometric details into the Home Office’s system.
In the event that you Graduate Visa application is rejected, it is unlikely you will be able to claim for a refund and you will need to pay the fee again if you wish to re-apply.
As the name stipulates, applicants seeking a Graduate Visa must have graduated with an undergraduate degree, like a Bachelor’s, or a postgraduate degree, like a Master’s. You are also eligible if you have a PhD or an alternative higher education qualification.
However, you must be a graduate of a UK-based institution and must have gained your degree while under a UK Student Visa (Tier 4 Student Visa). You also need to apply from within the UK to seek this route, and you must do so before your current visa expires.
The good news is that the route is ‘unsponsored’. Most overseas nationals who wish to work in the UK have to be offered a job from a UK business that is a licenced sponsorship holder and has been approved by UKVI. The business then acts as a sponsor for the prospective employee in their visa application and provides a Certificate of Sponsorship to each new international recruit.
Graduates, however, can work for an employer without needing the company to ‘sponsor’ the application. This allows them to work for different employers, engage in work experience and enjoy flexibility when it comes to finding work.
Graduates do not need to be offered a job role with a minimum income requirement or expected skill level, either. These rules only apply to the graduate when the Graduate Visa expires and he/she might wish to switch onto a Work Visa such as the Skilled Worker Visa.
In addition, graduate workers do not need to pass an English language test or Life in the UK test for this visa. It is expected that you can communicate and understand English at a near-fluent level after having completed your studies in a UK institution, and therefore you do not need to prove to the Home Office that you understand the language.
The requirements for the Graduate Visa include:
In order to be eligible for a Graduate Visa, you must have successfully completed a degree, whether at undergraduate level or higher, in a pre-approved and licenced higher education provider. Your attendance and compliance with the course while under a Tier 4 Student Visa must be recorded.
The qualification you have gained must also match the Home Office’s records of your Student permission. This is what was granted to you when you received your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) with your Student Visa.
Finally, your university, college or higher education establishment that you have been attending in the UK must notify the Home Office upon your completion.
An applicant can seek a Graduate Visa after being awarded a UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree, like a masters, or any other formal higher qualification such as a PhD or doctoral qualification.
As an international student, you must have studied in the UK for a certain amount of time before being eligible for a Graduate Visa. You must have studied your course in the UK for the entire length of the ‘relevant period’, i.e., the length of your degree course.
In some circumstances, you can seek a Graduate Visa after completing a professional course in a highly skilled industry.
For example, law conversion courses for lawyers and barristers, the postgraduate course for teachers and courses which can lead to a career as a doctor, nurse and architect may be accepted for the graduate immigration route.
A Post-study Work Visa essentially grants you the opportunity to gain employment after your studies at a pace that suits you. There is no pressure to commit to one job role or one employer, meaning you can switch around, gain work experience and enjoy a great deal of flexibility while remaining in the UK.
But, after the two or three years that your visa permits, you will need to either switch onto a more permanent visa or leave the UK. It is therefore wise to find employment that you would like to remain in long-term. After your visa expires, your employer may offer you a full-time position and sponsor your subsequent Work Visa so that you continue working for them.
You are able to sponsor dependents (children and/or a partner) on a Graduate Visa, but they cannot be classed as new dependents. What this means is that any dependents you wish to live with you must have already been registered and accepted as your dependent when you held a Tier 4 Student Visa.
Even if the relationship existed before you migrated to the UK, you may face difficulties sponsoring your loved ones at this stage. However, UKVI does assess each application on a case-by-case basis, and may permit an exemption in some circumstances.
For dependents already living with you in the UK, they can simply apply as a ‘Dependent of a Graduate’ when you submit your Post-study Work Visa application.
A Post-study Work Visa usually grants holders up to 2 years (24 months) leave to remain in the UK, though it depends on your individual circumstances.
PhD graduates can remain in the UK for no more than 3 years.
Once this permission expires, you need to find an alternative visa or route if you wish to continue living and working in the UK.
This route does not permit extension requests. You cannot renew, extend or apply for a Graduate Permit more than once. It is a once-in-a-lifetime type of application.
Applicants who have been granted permission under the Doctoral Extension Scheme to remain in the UK cannot switch onto a Graduate Visa, either.
This unique route in the immigration rules allows employers to hire from a pool of recent graduates on a temporary basis. It is enormously beneficial to businesses as they are no longer burdened with high fees, lengthy processes and a complex sponsorship programme which apply in all other circumstances.
The benefits of the route for businesses include:
Arguably, the best benefit of the Graduate Visa for businesses is that employers are liberated from the bulk of the immigration rules which dictate stringent criteria around skill levels and salary.
It doesn’t get much easier than the Post-study Work Visa when it comes to plugging your workforce with fresh talent.
As an employer, you still need to conduct a Right to Work check on your new graduate recruit. This is easily achieved if the applicant is currently holding a UK Visa and/or Biometric Residence Permit.
Immigration is vital for UK businesses and the economy, and as such there are many benefits in hiring international talent. Skilled individuals from overseas continue to diversify workforces and bring fresh, innovative ideas with them.
For businesses that trade overseas, it is clearly an advantageous to have multilingual staff on board, particularly with important trading partners such as the EU, USA, China and India.
This post-study work permit for immigrant graduates ensures such skilled individuals are cultivated in Britain and nurtured to start their career in the country for the benefit of the UK economy and its businesses.
In theory, a recent graduate who originates from overseas only has permission to remain and work in your company for a maximum of two, or possibly three, years. This makes the Graduate Visa ideal for plugging temporary, short-term gaps and for boosting recruitment drives.
However, that’s not to say that the employee will depart from the company or the country once their visa nears its expiry. Instead, the graduate employee could apply to switch from a Graduate Visa to a Skilled Worker Visa, and in doing so commit to working in your company for up to five years.
Employers would be wise in hiring and nurturing talent that they can see a future with in the company. By the end of the two years, the employer can assist their employee as they transition from a Graduate Visa to Work Visa.
The difference here is that the employer needs to sponsor the applicant, pay a Skills Surcharge and assist, to some degree, with the applicants’ Work Visa application. The employer also needs to hold a Sponsor Licence and offer the prospective employee an adequate salary which does not fall below its specific job code in the immigration rules.
In essence, the unsponsored graduate route grants businesses ample time to trial new talent before offering a full job offer and committing to a longer contract.
Just because you have graduated from a UK university does not mean you are automatically entitled to remain in the country.
You still need to apply for a Visa and prove that you meet the eligibility requirements, or else you will need to leave the country when your current Student Visa expires. However, there are many different immigration routes and visas that you can apply for when you have finished your course.
Recently trained doctors, nurses and medical staff, particularly those who wish to work in the NHS, are able to seek a Graduate Visa.
One of the many advantages of the Graduate Visa is that it is open to all regardless of qualifications or skill levels.
However, this route is important when it comes to encouraging highly skilled students to remain in the country. The UK Government is particularly keen in retaining the ‘best and brightest’ in the UK, who typically have high skills in areas such as business, IT and STEM subjects.
In fact, STEM graduates can not only benefit from the Graduate Visa, but a straight-forward switch onto a Skilled Worker Visa. This is because the Skilled Work Permit requires applicants to accumulate 70 points based on their skill level, salary, English language ability and qualifications. STEM-based qualifications and PhDs can automatically grant the applicant 20 points, the highest possible in this category, providing that they are also working in a role where a STEM subject is relevant to the job.
To switch from a Post-study Work Visa onto a full Skilled Worker Visa, you will need to score 70 points across the points-based system.
This is comprised of:
While the above points are mandatory, the following are tradable, meaning you can choose where you score the remaining points you need:
In order to switch from a Graduate Visa onto this route, you need to prove that you satisfy the above requirements and supply a portfolio of supporting evidence.
To be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain, you need to accumulate five years of continuous residency in the UK.
Unfortunately, neither the Student Visa nor the Graduate Visa can count towards residency. What this means is that you will need to switch from a Graduate Visa onto an alterative visa, such as a Spouse Visa, Global Talent Visa, Innovator Visa, Start-up Visa or Skilled Worker Visa, in order to start accumulating the time necessary for ILR status.
The Coronavirus pandemic inevitably affected the way pupils and students received their education.
All across the world, staff and pupils were ordered to work and study from home, transitioning entirely online. For some, this meant being trapped overseas to work/study due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
As a result, the Home Office is extending some leniency to international graduates who may have been unable to come to the UK to study or complete their course due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In normal circumstances, you must have studied while physically in the UK in order to be eligible for a Graduate Visa, but the Government recognises these extenuating circumstances that were beyond your control and will make an exception if you were adversely affected.
All Graduate Visa applications must be submitted online. The application must also include your portfolio of evidence which proves that you meet the eligibility requirements.
UKVI processes each application it receives in chronological order, unless if you have paid extra for a premium or fast-track service which speeds up the process.
Generally speaking, you should receive a decision on your visa application within 8 weeks. However, it may take longer if you are applying from overseas or if there are any complications in your visa application.
The Home Office will write to you with a Letter of Acceptance if it approves your visa application. You should also receive an eVisa and possibly a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) which you must use when travelling in and out of the country.
It is not mandatory to hire an immigration lawyer with any UK visa or status application, but it is highly recommended.
The UK’s visa laws and immigration rules are some of the most complex around the world. It has a much stricter system and harsher screening process. Many UK Visas have a high refusal rate for first-time applicants, particularly when these applicants attempt to fulfil the paperwork themselves and without any legal guidance.
By hiring a professional, you can mitigate against any devastating visa refusals and increase your chances of a visa acceptance.
If you need help with the Graduate Visa application, or you wish to hire a professional to check over your portfolio of evidence, our immigration lawyers here at 1 Absolute Advisor, London, are here to help. Call us today on 0207 993 6762 to learn more about our student service packages.