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Education briefing - The Graduate visa – How is it doing so far?

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings


The introduction of the Graduate visa with effect from 1 July 2021 was welcomed by institutions which had long been lobbying for the return of a post-study work visa. This gives international students the opportunity to remain in the UK for a period of time after graduation without the need to be sponsored under the Skilled Worker regime.

The previous post-study work visa, which allowed students two years to seek employment after their course ended, had been abolished in 2012. There was concern that this made the UK a less attractive destination for international students than other countries, such as Australia and Canada, where the ability to work after study was seen to be more welcoming.

Recent research, however, suggests that the Graduate route, whilst showing some promise, has, so far at least, not been a resounding success, with many employers being unaware of its attractions, or even its existence.

The Graduate visa

As a reminder, the graduate visa allows students who would not otherwise have the right to remain and work in the UK after their studies have finished to do so, provided they satisfy the eligibility criteria. This is primarily of interest to students from outside the EU and those within the EU who do not have settled or pre-settled status.

To be eligible to apply for the visa the student must:

• be in the UK on a Student or Tier 4 (General) Student visa

• have successfully completed a course of study for which they have been or will be awarded a UK bachelor’s degree, a UK postgraduate degree, or successfully completed one of the listed other relevant qualifications (including a Legal Practice Course, foundation programme in Medicine or Dentistry, a PGCE or PGDE)

• have last been sponsored by a Student sponsor which is a higher education provider with a track record of compliance on the date of application – and that sponsor has notified the Home Office that the student has successfully completed their course of study

• make the application before their existing visa expires

If the application is successful the individual can remain in the UK under the visa for 2 years from the date their application is approved – 3 years if they have a PHD or other doctoral qualification. They can work (other than as a professional sportsperson), look for work, be self-employed or do voluntary work. Study is permitted but only in respect of courses for which a Student visa is not required.

Although it would be possible for a student upon graduation to move into the Skilled Worker route the advantage of the graduate route is there is no sponsorship required, no minimum salary or skill level, no English language requirement and more flexibility generally.

There are, however, similar costs involved (an application fee of £715 and healthcare surcharge of £624 per year), it cannot be extended (although it is possible to switch into the Skilled Worker visa) and a dependant partner will only get a visa if they are already in the UK as a dependant on the current Student or Tier 4 visa.

What use is being made of the Graduate route?

In the year ending June 2022 (the first 12 months since the visa was introduced) there were 66,211 grants of further leave to remain in the Graduate route with Indian, Nigerian, and Chinese nationals accounting for 64%. This compared with the grant over the same period of 222,349 Skilled Worker visas.

On the face of it this looks like a decent take up but a bigger long term concern may be that although institutions are well aware of the Graduate route and its attractions, the same cannot be said of employers generally. This month the Higher Education Policy Institute published a report which had been put together in conjunction with Kaplan and the Institute of Directors (IoD) following a survey of 656 IoD members.

19% of the employers who responded to the survey said they had previously sponsored a visa for an employee and 1% were in the process of doing so for the first time. Only 3%, however, said they had employed someone under the Graduate visa or were in the process of doing so, 20% said they had no intention of using it and 27% had not heard of it. More encouragingly, 42% said they would consider using it in the future.



It is worth noting that students who were granted their Student route or Tier 4 visa before 5 April 2022 cannot take up a permanent full time position whilst they are waiting for their Graduate visa to be approved. Standard visa processing times are 8 weeks. Also the Graduate route does not count towards the 5 years needed before applying for settlement and our experience is that many graduates are instead asking employers to sponsor them under the Skilled Worker route rather than applying for the Graduate route.

Also whilst the Graduate route has attractions for employers in allowing employment without the obligations that come with sponsorship, there is a benefit for employers in sponsoring workers under the Skilled Worker route once they have graduated because of the exemption to pay the Immigration Skills Charge. This exemption does not apply where they switch from the Graduate route to the Skilled Worker route.

It has also been reported that the Home Secretary wishes to reduce the time which can be spent on the Graduate visa to 6 months, though the Department for Education is opposed to the change. It will be interesting to see whether this happens and, if so, what difference this will make in practice to the attraction of the Graduate route.

It is also clear that more awareness of the Graduate route is needed so that employers and students are fully informed as to the options available to continue working in the UK after studies.