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UK’s New Graduate Route: Post-Study Work Visa

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 4 minutes

What is the Graduate Route Visa?

The Graduate route or Graduate visa gives international students who have graduated from UK universities permission to stay in the UK for at least two years. The two years stay is for those who have either completed an undergraduate degree or a master’s. Those who have completed a PhD can apply to stay for up to three years.

This route is open to all and discriminates against none. This is a fantastic opportunity for international students who want to take their next steps into employment in the UK, as holders of this Visa can work or look for work in most of the employing industries. However, you must be in the UK when you apply.

Why has the UK introduced this Route?

Introduced in 2021 to combat the fallout from the pandemic; the Home Office announced the Graduate route to attract “the world’s brightest talent, who aspire to a career at the highest levels of business, science, the arts and technology to see our United Kingdom as the natural place to fulfil their aspirations.” 

The overriding objective of the government is to welcome 600,000 international higher education students per year by 2030; the Graduate visa plays a fundamental role in this plan. It is designed to attract students to study in the UK, and it does appear to have been working. It has been estimated that since the possibility of the Visa being released to the public, in 2019, enrolments from students outside the EU increased by 17% year-over-year.

What can you do with a Graduate Visa 

On the Graduate visa you can:

  • Work in most jobs
  • Look for work
  • Be self-employed
  • Continue living in the UK with your partner and children, if they’re eligible
  • Do voluntary work
  • Travel abroad and return to the UK
  • You can even join a course of study but only in cases where the course is not eligible for a Student visa.

What can you not do with a Graduate Visa

On the Graduate visa you cannot do the following:

  • Apply for most benefits (public funds), or the State Pension
  • Work as a professional sportsperson

If your application is successful, you’ll get a full list of what you can and cannot do with a Graduate visa.

Who is Eligible?

You can apply for a Graduate visa if you meet all of the following:

  • You’re in the UK
  • Your current visa is a Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa
  • You studied a UK bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree or other eligible courses for a minimum period with your Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa
  • Your education provider (such as the uni or college) has told the Home Office you’ve completed your course. If in doubt you can ask your education provider if they’ve told the Home Office you’ve completed your course.

Other eligible courses include courses like the LPC, a law conversion course (like the GDL), BPTC and the like. If you find that you have missed one of the requirements and you are not eligible for a Graduate visa, you may be eligible for another type of visa to stay in the UK (discussed below).

When is the Right Time to Apply?

If you are interested in this Route, the government expects you to apply before your Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa expires. You can start applying after your education provider (such as your university or college) has told the Home Office that you’ve completed the course you took with your Student or Tier 4 (General) student visa. This is good because it means that you need not wait till you’ve graduated or have been given a certificate.

The Costs

When you apply for a Graduate visa, you’ll need to pay the £715 application fee and pay the healthcare surcharge, which is usually £624 for each year you’ll be in the UK. The healthcare surcharge gives you access to the UK’s National Health Service on generally the same basis as a UK permanent resident.   

Other Visas

The UK government understands that there will be some cases when a student wishes to stay back but does not qualify to stay back under the Graduate route. It appreciates this by providing other visas that those students can apply for:

Skilled Worker Visa 

The Skilled Worker visa allows students to stay or come to the UK for up to five years to work for an approved UK employer. When your 5 years are up you are allowed to extend it. To apply, an employer needs to sponsor you. Your job will also need to be eligible for the visa. Furthermore, you’ll need to be paid at least the minimum salary for the type of work you’ll be doing, which could either be £25,600 (per year), £10.10 (per hour) or the ‘going rate for the type of work you’ll be doing. This visa is a replacement for the Tier 2 (General) work visa.

Start-up or Innovator Visa

If you have an innovative business idea and plan that you want to startup in the UK, instead of going for the Graduate Route, you might be eligible to apply for a Start-up visa. This lets you stay in the UK for up to two years. To apply, you need to be endorsed by either a UK university or a business organization. There’s also the UK Innovator visa, which lets you stay in the UK for three years.

Health and Care Worker Visa

If you’re a doctor or nurse, or you work in health or adult social care, you could be eligible to apply for the Health and Care Worker visa instead. This visa allows medical professionals to come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care. It’s cheaper to apply for and you do not need to pay the annual immigration health surcharge.

Global Talent Visa

The Global Talent visa is made for people who are leaders (or potential leaders) in digital technology, arts and culture, and academia. To get this type of visa you’ll need to apply for an endorsement through the Home Office, which experts in your industry will review. If you get granted the visa, you’ll be able to stay in the UK for up to five years. You will only be required to renew your visa each time you want to stay longer.

Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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