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Should I Stay or Should I Go? The New Graduate Route Visa

Contemplating life after graduation is daunting for any student but it poses a unique challenge for those who have spent their undergraduate degree studying internationally. With students from over 130 countries around the world, the University of St Andrews is renowned as one of the top international universities. One question that most likely every international student nearing graduation has heard is “Are you going to stay?” For those students who do wish to remain in the United Kingdom after graduation, the path is not that simple.

Most students’ Tier 4 student visas expire shortly after their graduation date, and they may only remain in the country for an additional six months as a tourist. Unfortunately, this means that any recent graduate without a new visa will have to travel back to their home country.

Presently, in order for international students to legally remain in the UK after graduation, they are required to file for a new visa. This can be an extension of their Tier 4 student visa should they choose to continue their education by pursuing a Master's or PhD in the UK. Alternatively, recent graduates can apply for a sponsored work visa from their employer.

One of the difficulties of the current methods for staying in the country is the timeline and expectations for recent graduates. Many students may not have employment secured by their graduation date, and for those who do, the criteria for a skilled worker visa are not flexible. A sponsored work visa requires a minimum salary and skill level for approval. Fortunately, after receiving a sponsored work visa, staying in the UK long-term becomes much more manageable through extensions and the ability to apply for "indefinite leave to remain" after five years.

For students who do not have a confirmed job offer or acceptance at an educational institution, staying in the UK can be a worrying topic. Thankfully, the UK Visas and Immigration office has created a new visa to encourage and help recent graduates stay in the UK while they plan for their future careers.

The Graduate Route Visa

Originally introduced in September 2019, the Graduate Route visa was formally launched on 4 March 2021 after being introduced to Parliament. UK Visas and Immigration announced that starting 1 July 2021, international graduates from UK universities will be able to apply for a Graduate Route visa. Any international student who has completed a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in 2021 is eligible to stay for two additional years as part of this scheme, while PhD graduates are eligible to remain for three years.

One advantage of this new Graduate Route is the relaxed eligibility criteria in comparison to the current routes. Application for the Graduate Route visa requires completion of at least an undergraduate degree and demonstrated immigration compliance by the awarding institution. Applicants will also be subject to routine security and background checks and liable for the visa fee and Immigration Health Surcharge.

The main benefit of this new visa route is the flexibility that it offers. Final-year students who are unsure of their future plans or waiting to hear back about career opportunities will now be able to stay in the UK for a minimum of two years while they look for work. The Graduate Route visa allows for a smooth transition into a sponsored work visa by providing graduates with enough time to find employment that fulfills the salary and skill level criteria for a Tier 2 work visa.

The Home Office and UKVI presented this new immigration route in response to the increase in international student visas over the past few years, noting that in 2019 alone, there was a 13 percent increase in applications. By providing recent graduates with the flexibility to remain in the UK while searching for suitable employment, it is their hope that current students will plan to stay and invest in the future of the UK. This new post-graduation opportunity is expected to help continue to attract international students to the UK and recruit a diverse and driven generation.

For the first year of implementation, UKVI has considered the impact of COVID-19 on current students and their eligibility for application. As many international students may be studying remotely, the requirement for the application to be completed from within the UK has been given an altered timeline. Current students must be back in the UK by 21 June 2021 if their degree started in the fall of 2020, or by 27 September 2021 for a degree that started at the beginning of 2021, to be eligible to apply. This is primarily for Master's students on a one-year degree course as Bachelor's and PhD students will have already reached the residency requirement during their longer degrees.

This flexibility further demonstrates the UK government’s dedication to attracting and maintaining international academics through the Graduate Route Visa. Hopefully, this new route will be publicised by institutions across the UK and international students will be able to plan for life after graduation with peace of mind about their visa status.


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