The UK Graduate Route [Updated July 2021]

Applications for the UK Graduate Route opened on July the 1st. This is a complete guide of everything you need to know about the UK Graduate Route and is updated on a regular basis. This information is for educational purposes only.

🚄 The UK Graduate Route: What you need to Know (UPDATED JULY 2021)

Applications for the Graduate Route opened July 1st.

💰 Fee’s & Conditions

  • £700 fee + Immigration Health Surcharge (£624 per year * 2 years = £1,248) Total Cost = £1,924
  • Graduates can apply for a 2 year Visa. PhD’s for a 3 year visa
  • You can apply once your University has sent you your final course results
  • You must be in the UK when you apply
  • You can apply online here
  • The Graduate Route does not count towards settlement or Indefinite Leave to Remain
  • Dependents already on your Student Visa can apply as a Graduate Route dependent. You cannot bring new dependents

We have received a high volume of enquiries from students by email and on our YouTube Channel asking about when they can apply based on their course start and end date. If you have queries about the Graduate Route and when you can apply you should contact your University directly.

👔 What can you do under the Graduate Route?

  • Work in most jobs
  • Look for work
  • Be self-employed
  • Volunteer
  • Study (if that course is NOT eligible for a student visa)

😊 Will this make it easier to get a job?

The short answer is yes.

The Institute of Student Employers and the UK Council for Student Affairs recently released a guide on the 22nd of June for employers, telling them how they can take advantage of the Graduate Route, which you can read below.

Some things to think about:

  • Employers can hire students without a fee, visa paperwork or the need for specialist legal support as if they were a UK national
  • They can also test and vet students for 2 years before deciding to sponsors them for a Skilled Worker Visa
  • This also opens up some interesting avenues like Teaching and Pharmacology which previously, we wrote more about the new opportunities this would create here
  • You also have the option to go self employed or pursue a start up

1. The UK’s new immigration system from 1 Jan 2021

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the upcoming Graduate immigration route, we need to put it into context.

On 19 February 2020 the government announced their plans for the post-Brexit immigration system that will operate from 1 January 2021. Current students who intend to switch to a visa for sponsored skilled work on or after 1 January next year will apply under a new “skilled worker” immigration route which will replace the Tier 2 (General) visa. 

While the headlines have emphasised that some EU nationals who currently enjoy freedom of movement will be excluded from the new system, the changeover from Tier 2 to the new skilled worker route will benefit students and former students from outside the EU.

There will only be one specific benefit for someone switching from Tier 4 to the skilled work route within the UK, compared to switching to Tier 2, and it will not really affect most people anyway.

Paragraph 5 of the Policy Statement  confirms that the skill threshold for eligible jobs is dropping from RQF level 6 (considered degree level skill) to RQF level 3 (considered equivalent to A-level skills). In practice, most graduates will be looking for sponsorship for a job at RQF level 6 and above, but it’s good that the option is now there for an employer to sponsor you for a lower level job.

The other changes will simply bring all skilled worker visa applicants in line with the advantages that those switching to Tier 2 from Tier 4 already enjoy. There will be a lower salary threshold (although not quite as low as for Tier 4 switchers), and both the Resident Labour Market Test and the cap on applications (neither of which are relevant to Tier 4-to-Tier 2  switchers) will be abolished for all applicants.

2. The new Graduate Immigration Route (PSW/Post Study Work Visa)

Of more interest to most current students is the separate Graduate immigration route, which from the summer of 2021 will give graduates a two-year buffer between finishing their studies and switch into a skilled work visa. It is not mentioned in the recent Policy Statement on the new immigration system, because the statement is about what is coming on 1 January 2021, and the Graduate route is not due until the summer.

The rest of this blog looks in detail at the Graduate route in as much detail as is currently available.

 

With new options coming in during 2021, it’s worth summarising first the options for students who wish to switch to a visa for skilled work.

 

Those options will depend on when you complete your studies.

 

This timetable is based on the assumption that the new skilled worker route will be in place for visa applications made on or after 1 January 2021, not visa applications decided on or after 1 January 2021. The latter is possible, but the former is much more likely.

Apply on or before 31/12/20

Tier 2 (General) sponsored by the employer.

Those completing a PhD or equivalent who do not have a job offer can apply under the 1-year Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme which is sponsored by their university.

Apply on or after 01/01/21

Skilled worker visa sponsored by the employer. Basic details in the policy statement, and full details to be announced nearer the time via a Statement of Changes to the immigration rules.

Those completing a PhD or equivalent who do not have a job offer can apply under the 1-year Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme which is sponsored by their university.

Apply from “Summer 2021”

Skilled worker visa sponsored the employer if you have a job already, or Graduate immigration route (no sponsor required) if you do not.

The 1-year Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme will no longer be relevant because PhD graduates will be eligible for the 2-year Graduate Immigration Scheme anyway.

Graduate Route: Basics, Dates, Eligibility and Questions

There is plenty of useful information about the Graduate immigration route out there already.

In October 2019, shortly after the proposals for a new Graduate route were announced, the Home Office press team produced a detailed factsheet for students and universities about their plans. Unlike some of the Home Office’s formal guidance for visa applicants, the Factsheet is clear and readable. It is probably your single best source of information about the plans for the Graduate route.

Soon afterwards, a blogger for FreeMovement , a blog for immigration advisers, posted an opinion piece called “Will the Graduate Immigration Route live up to expectations?”. It’s an interesting read, and her conclusion seems to be,

“Probably, but let’s see”.

Most recently, at the end of January the educational charity the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)  published a comprehensive article “Graduate route – what’s happening?”. It includes the Home Office’s answers to UKCISA’s questions about some aspects of the scheme that were not quite clear from the Home Office’s own Factsheet, including when more detailed information might be available (UPDATE: Applications opened July 2021)

I highly recommend reading all three of these pieces in full. They are reliable and authoritative. Of course, you will also find lots of discussion online about the Graduate route, especially in more informal spaces like Quora and Facebook, but these should be taken with a pinch of salt.

So what does that leave me to write about?  Actually, there’s plenty.

Who is eligible for the new 2 year PSW/Graduate Route?

If you have been following the news about the scheme since its first announcement last September, it is worth me clarifying who will be eligible for it.

Degree or degree-level?

So is the scheme for those completing a degree specifically, or any degree-level course? I’m afraid it is not at all clear. The Home Office factsheet says both!  It first says that the relevant qualification must be “a degree at undergraduate level or above”, then later says it can be a “degree-level course”

The UKCISA article summarises the current position and the linked issues:

[Although] the Home Office information talks about ‘degree-level’ qualifications, its current thinking appears to have changed to degrees only. This means that certificates, diplomas and other non-degree qualifications at RQF 6 or SCQF 9 and above may not qualify, even though many of them are vocational qualifications, including teaching and law. We do not know the reason for this, although the Home Office and some higher education providers were concerned about students who enrolled on a degree course but left early with a certificate or diploma in order to start work under the Tier 1 (Post-study Work) scheme which was closed in 2012

UKCISA

2019 and 2020 graduates

As well as those finishing a Masters in January 2021, what about people graduating even earlier, who started their course before the scheme was even announced? They now know that this scheme is coming for people who will graduate after them, and they may be feeling bent out of shape about the whole thing.

The Home Office factsheet addresses this directly, and reminds these folks that they can still switch into Tier 2 by the end of their Tier 4 visa, just not via the Graduate route:

Those whose Tier 4 leave expires before the route is introduced will not be eligible for it, however, most of these students will have had no expectation of benefitting from such a route when they applied to study in the UK. These students can still benefit from the generous provisions which allow them to switch in the skilled work route on favourable terms.

UK Home Office

Someone who falls foul of the summer 2021 start date may wonder why on earth the scheme was announced so early, around 18 months before it is due to start? This appears to be simply because the government wants universities to include eligibility for the Graduate scheme in their marketing and offer to students starting in 2020/21.

Some student are not taking no for an answer about this, and there are currently four petitions at change.org demanding that the route is opened to those graduating earlier than summer 2020.

What new opportunities will the Graduate route open?

Many, I would say.

The Graduate route will not require formal sponsorship by an employer or by your university, and it will allow you to undertake work at any skill level. It is likely that, as with most types of visa, there will be a prohibition on work as a doctor or dentist in training, or in professional sport, but otherwise there will be a plenty of flexibility to use the Graduate route to work in many different ways.

The scheme is primarily aimed at graduates who want to look for and start skilled work, with the opportunity to then switching into the skilled worker visa sponsored by their employer. If that is your plan, the key advantage will be that your window of opportunity  to make that switch from a student visa to a skilled worker visa is expanded from 7 months to 2 years.

Where am I getting the figure of 7 months from?  Well, currently the earliest an employer can issue the Certificate of Sponsorship to support your Tier 2 application, and hence the earliest you can apply, is 3 months before the end date of your course. This date has been brought forward twice in the last two years, and it is now the earliest it has ever been. I guest-blogged about this and other good news for Tier 2 applicants for UKCISA last year.

Then the latest you can apply to switch to Tier 2 within the UK is the end date of your visa, which is usually 4 months after the end of your course, or 6 months for Masters students at Tier 4 pilot universities.

Hence, a 7 month window. Switching into the new Graduate route will expand that to a full two years within which to switch to a skilled worker visa if you wish to.

More options/flexibility for graduates

The Graduate route visa will be flexible to use in many different ways, to suit your plans. Whether all these plans are possible will of course depend on the fine detail of the rules and conditions for the scheme, which we don’t know yet.

But it seems likely that you will be able to do all these types of work:

  • A permanent position with an employer who will later sponsor you to switch to a skilled worker visa.  You can switch to a skilled work visa at any point in the two years. This appears to be how the Home Office imagines the Graduate route should be used.
  • Temporary work with no particular intention to extend your stay beyond the two years
  • Part-time work
  • Self-employment
  • Launch a start-up for which you later seek endorsement to switch to a Start-up visa or Innovator visa
  • Very occasional work, or even no work. It is possible that the Graduate route visa application will ask about your intentions to work, but it seems unlikely that there will be a condition saying you must work
  • Studying part-time or full-time, while also working with no restriction on the number of hours. It is very unlikely that the Graduate route will have any restrictions on study, although it is perhaps illogical and an even wasted opportunity to use it for full-time study

All this flexibility and the increased opportunities to diversify your work under the Graduate route are great, but if you are doing a skilled job your employer may have different ideas about that.

If the skilled job meets all the requirements of the skilled worker visa (currently Tier 2), an employer may prefer that you apply for that visa under their sponsorship straight away, not after up to two years on the more flexible Graduate route.

They may even want you to switch straight from your student visa into a skilled work visa, bypassing the Graduate route entirely. This involves some extra work for them as the visa sponsor, but of course, with a visa that depends on you doing this specific job, you are much less likely to leave the job.

An employer may also give you the choice: work for up to two years on the Graduate route visa, then switch to the skilled worker visa, or apply for the skilled worker visa straightaway. Both options have advantages and disadvantages.

The work conditions of the skilled worker visa will be confirmed when the immigration rules are published shortly before 1 January 2021, but if they are as strict as the Tier 2 conditions your opportunities to do other work apart from your sponsored job will be extremely limited.

This in itself is likely to mean that, given the choice, graduates may prefer to stay on the Graduate route for the full two years, before switching to the skilled worker visa.

Professional training or qualifications

The Graduate route will open up some areas of professional training that have either been closed or difficult for international students until now. This is either because no visa sponsorship was available, or because it was just very difficult or tricky to secure it.

Visa sponsorship for salaried teacher training in England is currently not available.

International graduates are limited to the non-salaried route, where they need Tier 4 sponsorship for a full-time Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). They usually pay tuition fees at the overseas rate and they not be eligible for any funding or bursaries.

This will change under the new Graduate Route. Under the new visa, international graduates do not need visa sponsorship so they can train under the salaried route called School Direct. The salaried School Direct training has no tuition fees and, as the name suggests, you earn a salary.

Pharmacists will also benefit. Pre-registration training for international pharmacy graduates was previously done under a specific short-term visa sponsored by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. When this was discontinued in 2016, graduates were left with only Tier 2 as an option, which has a minimum salary requirement that the jobs could not always meet. The Graduate route, with no employer sponsorship or minimum salary, will make pre-reg pharmacy training a feasible option for everyone again.

Other areas of professional training that currently are only possible with Tier 2 sponsorship from the training employer include lawyers, architects and optometrists.

Graduate training schemes

Under the Graduate route, you can in theory join any graduate training scheme. Clearly, it will make sense to focus on schemes that will allow you to switch to a sponsored skilled work visa (what is currently a Tier 2 visa) before your 2-year Graduate route visa expires.

This means the employer must have the relevant sponsor license, and the salary must meet the “new entrant” minimum in the relevant code of practice.

The logistics of switching from the Graduate route to a skilled worker visa will depend on the length of the graduate training scheme.

If the scheme is less than two years, you can wait until the Graduate route visa is about to expire, although your employer may have their own view on that (see above).  If your graduate training scheme is longer than two years, you will need to switch to a skilled worker visa before the end of the scheme.

But as we wait for the Graduate route to launch, there is a further logistical problem here. The application deadline for an autumn 2021 graduate scheme could be as early as summer 2020.

When you apply, you already know that you will not need Tier 2 sponsorship for the scheme, because you will be switching into the Graduate route in summer 2021.

However the Graduate route visa does not yet exist, and the employer offering the scheme may have even heard about it. Furthermore, the employer may already know that the salary for the graduate scheme does not reach the Tier 2 “new starter” minimum salary, unaware that this doesn’t matter to you because you won’t need Tier 2 sponsorship anyway. You could find yourself turned down for the scheme.

The Careers Team at Kings College London has offered sound advice to its students on how to manage this disconnect, which I cannot improve on:

When can I start applying for graduate schemes with the hope of getting this new visa and not needing visa sponsorship from my employer?

We understand that students usually need to apply for graduate schemes up to a year in advance. If the Graduate Immigration Route opens on time in summer 2021, this would mean that students would be applying for graduate schemes from summer/autumn 2020 with the hope of starting the graduate scheme on this new 2-year visa.

But many employers won’t be up-to-date with the proposed Graduate Immigration Route and those that are might be wary of it being delayed or withdrawn.

So, you might still need to indicate in […] graduate scheme applications that [in the unlikely event that the Graduate Immigration Route does not launch as planned in summer 2021] you may require employer sponsorship in order to obtain a visa to stay on and work in the UK after your Tier 4 visa expires. In most application forms, you should be able to add information that you hope to make use of the Graduate Immigration Route if it becomes available before your Tier 4 expires.

KCL Career’s Team

Here’s an idea. Why not show the Careers team and the International Student Adviser at your university this advice from Kings. Encourage them to put their heads together and produce some guidance about the Graduate route for prospective employers. International applicants can include it with their application. You’re welcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

Having read all Home Office factsheet and all the analysis and articles I recommend in this blog, you may still have questions.

There is now a new government since the route was announced. Could they cancel the Graduate route?

I suppose they could, but it seems very highly unlikely, mostly because it was announced under the current Prime Minister, albeit during his previous government. Since September last year universities have been encouraged to recruit students on the basis of them being eligible for it, so it would be a big mess if it was suddenly cancelled.

Could the route be closed after a few years like Tier 1 Post Study Work was?

Yes, it could. In their guide to the route, UKCISA has some good advice for how students can future-protect the scheme

The Home Office .. has also implied that the route could be closed if evidence suggests that it is used to obtain jobs it regards as ‘low skilled’, which is what happened with Tier 1 (Post-study Work). It is, therefore, important that, if you are granted Graduate route leave and find work, you inform the careers or alumni team at your university so that it can gather its own evidence about how the scheme is operating. For an idea of the type of jobs the Home Office thinks of as ‘skilled’, see Appendix J of the immigration rules, which sets out job titles, descriptions, and wages required for sponsorship under Tier 2 (which is a ‘skilled job’ route). The Graduate route has the advantage of not requiring sponsorship or a minimum wage.

Can I join the Graduate route if I previously had Tier 1 (Post Study Work)?

The answer to this question will probably only be clear when the immigration rules for the route are published. My guess, if you want to know, is that answer will probably be no.

If I switch back to a student visa for full-time studies after the Graduate route, can I apply in the UK?

The answer to this question will probably only be clear when the immigration rules for the route are published. My guess, if you want to know, is that answer will probably be no.

If I switch back to a student visa, will the time spent under the Graduate route count towards the Tier 4 study cap?

The answer to this question will probably only be clear when the immigration rules for the route are published. My guess, if you want to know, is that answer will probably be no.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Hello I have a doubt if I join for a course with work placement (2 year course) but fail to get work placement and the course becomes one year will that affect my ability to apply for graduate route?

    • Hi Gokul,

      There seems no reason why it would affect your ability to apply. But this is a question to be asked to the course provider

  2. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

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