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International Students: A new route for graduates

Alongside the various tax increases, freezes and exemptions of the Budget Announcement on 3 March came further detail in relation to the Home Office’s Graduate Route visa, which both extends and widens the existing Doctorate Extension Scheme from 1 July 2021.

What is the Graduate Route visa and who can apply?

The Graduate Route Visa provides a route for international students who have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a UK Higher Education Provider to remain in the UK following completion of their studies.

Applicants must have a track record of compliance with UK Immigration requirements and at the time of their application must hold a valid Tier 4 or Student Route visa and have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a higher education provider with a track record of compliance. Application Fees (currently £700) and the Immigration Health Surcharge (currently £624 per annum) will also apply.

Beyond these requirements the scope of the route is broad. Individuals may make applications without a job offer from a sponsoring employer and there is no minimum salary requirement in relation to the role a graduate can undertake in the UK whilst on this visa, nor is there a total cap on the number of visas that can be granted.

The visa effectively provides graduates with a period of 2 years (3 for Doctoral students) after completion of their studies to undertake work experience and otherwise search for employment in the UK. This is significantly more generous than previous comparable visa routes, which required graduates to have an offer of employment from a registered sponsor, except in the case of Doctoral students, who were granted only 12 months to find work at the end of their studies.

The Graduate Route Visa cannot be extended and does not provide a direct route to settlement in the UK. However, graduates will be able to switch into the Skilled Worker visa route from within the UK when they have found a suitable job with a sponsoring employer.

When can applications be submitted?

Applications under the new route can be made from 1 July 2021. Many international students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels have been unable to travel to the UK in the face of international travel restrictions and other measures imposed as a result of the global reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. As such, the Home Office has confirmed that those who began their studies in Autumn 2020 and enter the UK before 21 June 2021 will be eligible to apply for the Graduate Route if they meet the requirements above (extended from the previous deadline of 6 April). Those who commenced their courses of higher education in January or February of this year will also be eligible provided they enter the UK before 27 September 2021.

A Wider Context

The Home Office has stated on several occasions its aim to increase the  number of international students in UK Higher Education to 600,000 by 2030. This measure constitutes the latest step towards achieving this wider aim and is an indication of the UK Government’s wish to incentivise immigration based on talent, expertise and innovation following Brexit.

While perhaps not a ‘headline grabbing’ policy launch, the introduction of the Graduate Route visa represents a crucial development for international students wanting to study, live and work in the UK both now and in the near future.

These notes do not contain or constitute legal advice, and no reliance should be placed on them. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to speak to your usual contact at Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.

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