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Graduate visa route launches on 1 July

The new graduate route, for international students who wish to stay for a period for work purposes, launched on 1 July 2021. 

Until last week international students who had wished to prolong their stay have had to apply for a further course, a masters or PhD while applying for an extension to their Tier 4 visa. The other option would be to gain employment with an organisation with a sponsor licence.

Because students’ Tier 4 visas expire soon after graduation, many would have had to return to their countries of origin even if they wanted to remain and search for a job. This has seen the UK missing out on sought after skills.

However, from 1 July any international student who has completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in 2021 will be eligible to stay for two additional years as part of this scheme, while PhD graduates are eligible to remain for three years.

This gives graduates time to look for work and in some cases find employment with a company with a sponsor licence that fulfils the salary and skill level criteria for a Tier 2 work visa.

The graduate route will work across the UK, allowing students in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to stay on.

Minister for future borders and immigration Kevin Foster MP said the changes would allow students once “they have received a gold standard qualification from one of our world leading education institutions” to “easily secure the status they need to continue living, working and fulfilling their dreams in the UK”.

Immigration specialist Chetal Patel, partner at City law firm Bates Wells says the changes are “excellent news for students and employers” but also points out possible flaws around the need for higher education institutions to have a “track record of compliance” for example. Here, she lays out the rules surrounding the graduate visa route.

Who is eligible?

Applicants must hold a Tier 4 visa or other student permission and have completed an eligible course at a higher education institute with a track record of compliance to apply under this route. Eligible courses include:

• UK bachelor or UK post-graduate degree
• Law conversion course valid in England and Wales
• Legal practice course (LPC) or equivalent
• Bar practice course or equivalent
• Foundation programme in medicine or dentistry
• Postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) or postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE)
• Professional course requiring study at UK bachelor level or above in a profession with reserved activities regulated by UK law or a UK public authority.

Applicants will need to apply from within the UK and should have spent 12 months in the UK while studying their course. There are concessions for students who began their studies in 2020 to account for international travel disruptions caused by Covid-19.

Students who began their course in autumn 2020 or January/February 2021, will need to have entered the UK by 27 September 2021 with permission as a student to be eligible for this route.

Students who graduate before the launch of this route on 1 July 2021 won’t be eligible to apply.

What does ‘a track record of compliance’ mean?

The Home Office has specified that a higher education institute will need to have “a track record of compliance” as a Tier 4 sponsor. This essentially means that higher education institutes will need to show a history of “immigration compliance” and “educational oversight” to enable their graduates to apply under this route.

In practice, this could mean that an individual loses out on the opportunity to apply under this route because of a compliance mistake made by the institute they are studying at, rather than any fault of their own.

What are the route’s features?

• Those with a visa under this route will be able to remain in the UK for two or three years (depending on their course) after they have graduated.
• They will be able to look for work at any skill level and will not require sponsorship to undertake employment. Not only does this provide individuals with an opportunity to freely access the UK labour market, but it also offers organisations a cost-effective solution to hire new graduates.
• They can also continue to study, provided their course does not normally require sponsorship as a student.
• They will be able to switch into other routes, such as the skilled worker or global talent route, from within the UK at the end of their two-three year stay. They will of course need to show that they are eligible under that route.
• This route doesn’t count towards settlement so some individuals may prefer to switch to a visa that starts the clock for settlement.
• Dependants of a student can also apply to extend their stay under the graduate route. However, new dependants are not permitted to apply under this route.

Will the graduate route be a success?

The launch of this route will be welcomed by students and employers alike. It will afford graduates unfettered access to the UK labour market. Employers will also benefit from having access to a broader pool of talent, without having to apply for a sponsor licence and develop internal processes for ongoing compliance with sponsor duties. Employers will be able to engage graduates with a visa under this route for two-three years and can then make an informed decision about whether to sponsor them.

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