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New immigration route for UK Graduates from July 2021 – further details announced

Graduate Visa, July 2021

10 second summary:

"From July 2021, UK graduates will be able to get a 2 year visa (3 years for PhD graduates) allowing them to work freely in the UK. This will be welcome news for students who no longer need to find an employer willing to sponsor them before they graduate"

The Home Office has published new details relating to the new ‘Graduate’ visa to be introduced from the summer of 2021. The new route was first announced in September 2019, but until now there has been some uncertainty surrounding the finer details.

Who is this immigration route for?

International students who have successfully completed a degree or other relevant post-graduate qualification awarded by a UK educational institution. The route opens on 1 July 2021 and crucially, applicants who have graduated prior to this date but who still have valid leave as a Student until July 2021 or later will still be able to make use of the scheme.

What are the requirements?

The route is notionally part of the UK’s new ‘Points Based System’, although in reality, the applicant must meet all of the following requirements – points cannot be swapped between areas.

Applicants for the Graduate visa must:

  1. Be in the UK and hold (or have last held) a Student visa
  2. Have successfully completed a course of study for which they have been or will be awarded one of the following qualifications:
    • UK Bachelor’s degree
    • UK Postgraduate degree, i.e. Master’s or PhD
    • Law conversion course validated by the JASB
    • LPC or equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland
    • BPC or equivalent in Northern Ireland
    • Foundation programme in Medicine or Dentistry
    • PGCE or PGDE
    • a professional course requiring study at UK bachelor’s degree level or above in a profession with reserved activities that is regulated by UK law or UK public authority
  3. Have studied for the course from within the UK for at least 12 months or the length of the course, whichever is shorter. Exceptions to this rule exist for those impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic

Notably, holders of postgraduate certificates and diplomas (other than of education) will not be eligible to apply for this visa.

There is no financial or ‘maintenance’ requirement.

How long is the Graduate visa valid for and what does it allow the holder to do?

Applicants who have completed a PhD or other doctoral qualification will be granted 3 years of permission to stay in the UK. Other successful applicants will be granted 2 years.

Time spent with this status does not count towards the typical 5-year timeframe for reaching Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).

The visa allows the holder to work freely in the UK without needing to be sponsored by an employer, other than as a professional sportsperson. Self-employment is also permitted, as is informal study – study that meets the requirements of the Student route is not permitted.

Dependent family members can apply along with the main applicant, but only where they are already in the UK with status as the applicant’s dependants.

How much does it cost?

£700, plus the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) at £624 per year the visa will be granted for. The total cost will be as follows:

  • £2,572 for applicants with a PhD or other doctoral qualification (who will be granted 3 years)
  • £1,948 for other applicants (who will be granted 2 years)

Applications by dependent family members will attract additional costs.

Can the visa be extended?

No, which means that at the end of the 2 or 3 years, holders will need to move to a different visa category. For many, this will be the Skilled Worker route, so they’ll need to use at least some of the time on the Graduate visa finding an employer who is willing to sponsor them.

It’s worth noting that recent graduates and those aged under 26 can typically qualify as a ‘New Entrant’ when applying for a Skilled Worker visa, meaning there is a lower minimum salary threshold associated with the application. But a Skilled Worker visa holder can only ‘be’ a New Entrant for a maximum of 4 years, and this includes time spent on a Graduate visa. By way of an example, where an employer sponsors a PhD holder at the end of their 3-year Graduate visa, the applicant can only be a New Entrant for a further 1 year. The employer can either apply for a 1 year visa using the lower New Entrant salary threshold – extending the visa at the full going rate a year later – or apply for a longer visa up-front but relying on the full going rate.

Our thoughts

For international students graduating from UK universities, the introduction of this new route will be seen as extremely welcome, since it fills a large gap in the UK’s immigration system by allowing them to remain in the UK for at least 2 years without employer sponsorship. That being said, where a graduate has found an employer willing to sponsor them, many will be keen to move to a Skilled Worker visa as quickly as possible, or even skip the Graduate visa entirely, to start accruing time spent in the UK towards the five-year timeframe for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

The cost differential between a Graduate visa and a Skilled Worker visa is significant, particularly for medium and large sponsors, so many employers will probably prefer job applicants to obtain their own Graduate visas, with only the most desirable applicants being sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa straight away.

Finally, an interesting element of this new route is that educational institutions will be responsible for notifying the Home Office when the student has completed their qualification. As a result, applicants will not need to submit any evidence that they have completed their course. This move towards a less document-heavy application process is very welcome and will hopefully be replicated across other immigration categories in due course.

If you’re interested in applying for a Graduate visa or would like to discuss the pros and cons of supporting an employee or prospective employee with this application or a Skilled Worker visa, contact us for a free initial conversation.

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