As part of the UK immigration system’s reform, the new Graduate route visa is intended to enable the best and brightest foreign national students to remain in the UK and seek employment without the need for sponsorship. Opening for applications from within the UK on 1 July 2021, Nina Holmes, from our business immigration team, offers an overview of what we know so far.
International students must have completed an eligible course (at undergraduate level or above) at a UK higher education provider, with a track record of compliance with the UKVI’s immigration requirements.
According to Government guidance, the student must have completed the qualification that was named on their Conformation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) associated with their Student or Tier 4 visa, or following a change of course which was allowed without applying for further permission. As this is an unsponsored route, applicants will not need a job offer to apply for it. Simply, applicants must submit their application using an online form but only after they have successfully completed their course, i.e., when they have received their final course results (unless the student has taken part in certain permitted study programmes or remote study due to COVID-19 where specific concessions apply). Applicants do not have to wait until they have graduated to apply, just that they have passed their course. Applicants must also be mindful of their current Tier 4 or Student visa, as applications can only be made before the expiry date of their current visa or risk having their application refused.
Applicants must be in the UK when they apply. If they apply outside of the UK, their application will be rejected and they risk losing their application fee. If resident in the UK at the time of submitting an application, applicants must not leave the UK or the Common Travel Area whilst they are waiting for a decision on their graduate visa. Doing so may affect their application and ability to re-enter the UK. Although, if the applicants visa expires after they have applied to the graduate route, they will be permitted to remain in the UK whilst their application is being considered.
An application fee of £700 will also apply for both two and three-year graduate route applications (with a discount for certain EU nationals), plus an Immigration Health Surcharge payment of £624 per year of the visa, which will give students access to the UK’s National Health Service on the same basis as a permanent UK resident. Dependents who are already in the UK may also apply as a dependent of a graduate at the same time as the graduate applies to the route but they will also be required to pay the application fee, as well as the Immigration Health Surcharge. According to Government guidance, there is no need for students to take an English language test or meet the usual maintenance requirements.
For the vast majority, applications will be processed digitally using an app compatible with Android phones and iPhone 7 (or newer models). Applicants will need their Biometric Residence Card or Permit to apply or if they are an EU, EEA, or Swiss National, they can use their biometric passport to verify their ID on the app. If the applicant does not have access to a compatible phone, they can apply using a family or friend’s mobile phone or they can visit a UK Visas and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) centre if the applicant or his friends or family does not have access to a compatible phone. Successful applicants who applied using the digital route will be issued with an eVisa. If applicants applied using UKVCAS they will still be able to use the online service to evidence their rights, rather than having to rely on a physical document. Once the visa has been granted, the applicant will be able to work or look for work (including self-employment) for a maximum period of 2 years for undergraduates, or 3 years for PhD or doctorate level graduates. Further study is also permitted under this visa, but only if it does not meet the requirements for student under the Student route. Applicants cannot study at a state school during the course of the graduate visa.
It is also important to recognise that whilst this visa route is designed to retain the best and brightest international talent, it does not lead to settlement. However, there is the option to ‘switch’ to the Skilled Worker route if the graduate visa holder finds a suitable job that is sufficiently skilled. Please get in touch if you would like some further information on the Skilled Worker route and we would be happy to help.
The route provides employers with the ability to hire graduates without the need for sponsorship and its associated reporting responsibilities. However, employers should be mindful that at the end of an individual’s graduate visa they will be required to apply for another visa if they wish to remain in the UK. So, whilst graduate visas do not require sponsorship, they may lead to companies having to sponsor individuals in order to retain them.
If you wish to sponsor (and retain) the individual and you are not already a sponsor licence holder, you should ensure that you apply for a licence several months in advance of the expiry date. The typical timescale for a licence to be processed by UKVI is around 8 weeks once the application and documents have been received, so time is certainly of the essence!
If you would like some further information on the graduate visa route or advice on how to become a sponsor, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
You can read more about the graduate visa in the Government’s guidance document available here.