At last: the graduate visa is finally here!

5 March 2021

After waiting with bated breath, the rules for the Graduate route have finally been published and the Graduate visa will officially launch on 1st July 2021. In 2019, the UK government announced that they will be bringing back the treasured Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa – now called the Graduate visa.

The PSW visa route allowed international students to work after completing their education in the UK, without relying on the cumbersome process of sponsorship. To the relief of hundreds of thousands of international students, this was a welcome change as the Graduate visa will allow international students to undertake full time employment at any skill level upon completion of their studies.  This is a big change from the mere four months they may have had upon the end of a student visa since the closure of the PSW visa in 2012.

Here are the key points of the Graduate visa:

  • The route will open at 9am on 1st July 2021 and will be available to all international students who have completed a degree at a Higher Education institution in the UK. Students will need to have a valid Tier 4 or Student visa at the time of applying in the UK for the Graduate visa.
  • International students who have completed a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree in the UK will be granted a two-year Graduate visa to stay in the UK and work or look for work.
  • International students who have completed a PhD in the UK will be granted a three-year Graduate visa to stay in the UK and work or look for work.
  • International students on the Graduate visa will be able to switch to the Skilled Worker visa and can take advantage of the new entrant minimum salary discount.
  • Dependent family members of international students can apply for a visa provided they are in the UK and were last granted a visa as a dependent family member of the main applicant. New dependants will not be allowed, other than children born during the course of the student or Graduate visas.
  • This route will not count towards indefinite leave to remain/settlement.  However, applicants on the Graduate visa will be allowed to extend their stay by applying to other available visa routes and this route can count towards the 10-year-long residence settlement route.  Time spent on the Graduate visa will count towards the maximum four-year period which can be spent as a new entrant in the Skilled Worker category.
  • International students whose Tier 4 or Student visas expire prior to the launch of the Graduate visa will unfortunately not be eligible to apply.
  • International students who are successful in applying for the Graduate visa will be able to undertake self-employment.
  • International students will not require sponsorship from employers in order to work.
  • The fees to apply for the Graduate visa will be £700. Applicants will also be required to pay upfront for the Immigration Health Surcharge which for adults is £624 per year of the visa.

It should be noted that UKVI has put concessions in place so as to not disadvantage international students due to COVID-19:

  • International students who began their studies in autumn 2020 have until 21st June 2021 to enter the UK on their student visa in order to be eligible to apply for a Graduate visa. This deadline has been pushed back from the previous deadline of 6th April 2021.
  • International students who began their studies in January or February 2021 will need to be in the UK by 27 September 2021 to be eligible to apply for the Graduate visa.

The Graduate visa will bring tremendous joy – not just to the international students but also to the UK universities where international student numbers have dropped since the closure of the PSW category.  By bringing in the Graduate visa, the UK will be able to attract more international students who since the closure of the PSW category have chosen Australia, Canada and the US as the top locations for their further education. 

This route will be a great opportunity for both employers and migrant graduates to gauge whether there is employer-candidate compatibility before both sides commit to a more permanent visa route, such as the Skilled Worker visa. Most importantly, as the Graduate visa doesn’t require employers to sponsor international graduates, it allows migrants to work with any employers irrespective of whether the employer holds a sponsor licence and does not limit them to approach only the 33,000+ employers listed as sponsors.

The introduction of the Graduate is a step in the right direction but it seems unfair that those international students whose student visas are running out at the end of June 2021 will just miss out on the opportunity of taking advantage of the Graduate route. My suggestion to those students will be to not give up and perhaps use the T5 (Temporary Worker) Government Authorised Exchange Worker visa route if they are able to find an employer who is willing to offer them a supernumerary role such as an internship. They can also take advantage of other immigration routes such as the Skilled Worker, Global Talent or the Innovator visa.


Should you have any queries regarding the issues raised in this blog please contact a member of our immigration team.


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