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Published 21 April 2021
After a long hiatus, the UK is re-introducing a route for international students to work in the UK following the completion of their studies. Previously, the Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa allowed international students to work in the UK for two years but the route was closed on 6 April 2012. Consequently, the UK’s offering for international students became less attractive when compared with other leading destinations and international student numbers fell in the UK.
The new Graduate visa will open for applications on 1 July 2021 and will allow international students to stay in the UK after their studies and seek employment without requiring a sponsor.
The Government has long been aware of the important contribution international students make but this has not always been reflected in immigration law. Following increased global competition for international students, the UK higher education sector has been calling for changes to allow international students to work in the UK in the hope of attracting more international students to the UK.
Who is eligible to apply for a Graduate visa?
The route is open to international students who currently have, or were last granted, a Student visa provided they successfully completed an eligible course of study.
Those who were previously granted a visa under the Doctorate Extension Scheme will not qualify nor will those who have already had a grant under the Graduate route.
Students who were awarded a scholarship or sponsorship by a Government or international scholarship agency in the last 12 months must obtain written consent from the relevant organisation which must be submitted with their application. If consent is not obtained, the application will not be valid.
Applicants must also demonstrate that they have a good track record of compliance by not falling for refusal under the general grounds of refusal or the suitability criteria.
Which courses are acceptable for a Graduate visa?
The types of courses which allow a student to qualify for a Graduate visa are:
It is important to note that the course must have been successfully completed whilst the applicant was in the UK on a Student visa.
If the duration of the course is 12 months or less, the student must have studied in the UK for the full duration of the course.
For courses longer than 12 months, the student must have studied in the UK for at least 12 months. The impact of the coronavirus on students meeting this requirement has been taken into consideration with concessions introduced for any distance learning which takes place overseas between 24 January 2020 and 27 September 2021. Depending on when a student started their course, their course length and the date they entered the UK, the concessions may allow for this requirement to be met, even where study in the UK has not taken place for the required period of time.
How long will the Graduate visa be granted for?
The length of grant will be either:
The Graduate route does not lead to settlement except under the 10 years long residence category.
What is allowed under the Graduate visa?
A student can be employed, self-employed and carry out voluntary but they will not be able to work as a professional sportsperson.
Some study is allowed but only at certain levels and with education providers who are not sponsors for Student visas.
Graduate visa holders will not be able to access public funds and, if required on the grounds of nationality, may need to register with the police.
Can family members join as dependants under the Graduate visa route?
Partners or children are allowed to apply for dependant visas under the Graduate route. However, this only applies to family members who were already granted leave as a dependant of the student during their most recent permission to be in the UK.
New family members are not eligible with the only exception being a child born in the UK during the student’s last grant of leave.
Benefits of the new Graduate visa route
The Graduate route benefits more than just the students it aims to attract. The route hopes to increase the attractiveness of the UK as a study destination by providing a well-regarded study package to international students. The ability to stay in the UK post-study is highly desirable by many students and is an option already offered by other countries hoping to attract talented students.
The Migration Advisory Committee acknowledged in their report entitled ‘Impact of international students in the UK’ published in September 2018, that international students and their payment of higher tuition fees provide a vital source of income for educational institutions and subsidise university research and the tuition fees of domestic students. The living expenditure of international students and their visiting family members helps to support local employment, boosting the local economies where they study. The Graduate route alone is expected to provide a significant additional contribution to the UK economy.
With the introduction of the Graduate route, UK employers will have access to skilled graduates who will bolster their work force and, if the graduates return home, may foster ongoing business and research links between countries. While the UK Government is focused on delivering an immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK, it is clear that attracting and retaining skilled and talented individuals needs to be at the top of their priorities. As such, the introduction of the Graduate visa is a positive step towards improving the UK’s standing as a world-leading provider of higher education.
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