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The Graduate visa: top tips to avoid common pitfalls, and a look at what's to come

Posted on 19 January 2024

What is the UK’s Graduate visa?

The Graduate visa route was introduced in 2021. It is open to international students in the UK who currently hold a Student visa or Tier 4 (General) Student visa. These students must have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at an eligible UK higher education institution. 

The visa allows successful applicants to stay in the UK after their studies have been completed and work or look for work. Graduate visas are usually granted for two years, or three if the applicant has completed a PhD or other doctoral qualification.

How does applying for a Graduate visa work?

Applicants do not need to be sponsored by a UK company or hold a job offer to apply. There is therefore a high degree of flexibility, and successful applicants can work in any sector, at any skill level and switch jobs should they wish to. Applicants may also include their partner and children as dependants if they are eligible.

Applicants must submit their Graduate visa application before the expiry of their current Student visa.

Graduate visa applications usually take eight weeks for the Home Office to process. There is no priority processing service available. If granted, the Graduate visa is valid for two or three years.

The Graduate visa is granted on a one-time non-extendable basis and does not directly lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain (''ILR''). However, if a Graduate visa holder finds suitable employment during this time, they can switch to a Skilled Worker visa provided they meet the requirements of that route and may therefore begin a pathway to ILR. Graduate visa holders may also switch to other UK immigration routes before the expiry of their visa, depending on their circumstances and eligibility.

Top tips for Graduate visa applicants

  1. Timing: Once applicants know the date on which their Student visa is due to expire, it would be wise to consider planning the timing of their Graduate visa application, as this may have a bearing on future visa applications and travel plans. Please note that the Home Office plans to shift everyone to a digital status from 1 January 2025 and that BRP cards will no longer be in use. Therefore, if your BRP expires on 31 December 2024, this may not necessarily be the end date of your visa and you should check your approval letter or online status carefully.
  2. Results: Universities may not always be prompt in reporting the successful completion of the applicant's course to the Home Office. This is especially relevant, given the continuing effect of the University and College Union boycott in the UK in 2023. This has led to a backlog and, by extension, a delay in students receiving their results. Applicants impacted by this backlog may wish to contact the visas and immigration team at their university to check if the successful completion of their course has been reported to the Home Office.
  3. Delayed results: The processing of Graduate visa applications may be delayed if applicants apply before they have received the results of their course. For example, results may be delayed due to extenuating circumstances regarding exams, coursework, or re-sits. The circumstances surrounding any such delay will need careful consideration and planning.   
  4. Be mindful of Student visa conditions: It is important to note that all visas have conditions which must be met for the visa holder to be lawfully in the UK. For instance, Students must attend their courses to maintain their visa. There are also restrictions, for example in relation to the number of hours Students may work alongside their studies and a prohibition on being self-employed. If a Student has queries in relation to the conditions of their visa we would advise that they seek professional advice as soon as possible. 
  5. International travel: Usually, the time following graduation can be a great opportunity to travel. However, applicants should be mindful that they must not travel internationally from the moment when they submit their online Graduate visa application form, until they receive a decision on their application. If an applicant leaves the UK while their Graduate visa application is being processed, the visa application could automatically be deemed withdrawn. This means that the applicant may have no immigration permission to return to the UK. Accordingly, it is critical that applicants remain in the UK until they receive a decision on their Graduate visa application.

Future of the Graduate visa

In December 2023, the Government announced a review of the Graduate visa route. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is undertaking the review which is expected to finish by the end of 2024. There are concerns that the Government intends to limit or close the Graduate visa route in an effort to reduce net migration figures. Indeed, its predecessor known as the Post-Study Work visa was scrapped by the Government in 2012 due to concerns about abuse and a desire to tighten immigration controls.

The Graduate visa is a highly flexible visa option which has many benefits for both students and businesses alike. The visa allows students to contribute to the UK economy post-study and allows businesses to recruit international talent without the costs and commitments of sponsorship. International students contribute significantly to the UK economy, and figures published in 2023 show that the economic benefit of international students rose from £31.3 billion to £41.9 billion between 2018/19 and 2021/22. Accordingly, any decision to close the Graduate visa route should be carefully considered, and the impact on net migration balanced against overall impact to UK business.

Discuss your Graduate visa or UK immigration options

If you would like more information on your Graduate visa application or UK immigration options, please get in touch with your usual Mishcon de Reya contact or with a member of the Immigration team.

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