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Can I Graduate and Stay in the UK?

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When you chose to study in the UK you often make no set plans for what you will do after you graduate. Others, when choosing to study in the UK as international students, know that they want to stay in the UK after their graduation, either to gain valuable work experience before returning home or because they see their long-term future in the UK. In this article our immigrationsolicitors take a look at the new graduate visa and the opportunities it opens up for international students to graduate and stay in the UK.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors 

For advice on any aspect of immigration law call the expert London immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

Studying in the UK  

UK universities as a choice for international students just got all that more attractive with the news that UK universities have increased their rankings on the world university league table. Oxford remains at the top spot and Cambridge now ranks at number five, a rise of one.

Although the UK still can't compete with the USA for the number of top university rankings, the UK ranks third overall, helped in part by the COVID-19 related research undertaken by many of the UK’s leading and lesser-known universities and institutes of higher education.

Many immigration solicitors say that studying in the UK has also got more attractive because of the introduction of the UK graduate visa. This visa route commenced on the 1 July  2021. Now international students know that if they choose the UK to study in, they have options when they graduate. The post study graduate visa means they can try out work in the UK, either with a view to eventual long-term settlement in the UK or gaining valuable work skills before returning to their home country to put their education and work skills to good use.

The graduate visa

Immigration solicitors emphasise how important it is for current international students and overseas students contemplating studying in the UK to know about the availability of the graduate visa and understand the eligibility criteria. That way students have the best chance of successfully applying for a graduate visa.

The good news is that there is no cap or limit on the number of UK graduate visas per year. The bad news, for some students struggling with their studies, is that you do need to complete your course and graduate before you are eligible to apply for the graduate visa. Crucially an international student must be in the UK on a student visa to be eligible to apply for a graduate visa, otherwise known as a post study visa.

The requirement to have graduated and to be in the UK on a student visa at the time of the graduate visa application means that this isn’t a visa that you can take time over to weigh up your options. In other words, an overseas student can't take a year out after graduation and then apply for a graduate visa and you can't try working in the USA or Germany before deciding that you would prefer to live and work in the UK.

The graduate visa isn’t therefore for the indecisive. However, from a student’s point of view the graduate visa has many things going for it, such as:

  • A student doesn’t need to get a first or even a 2:1 to qualify for a graduate visa. A third will do as the criteria is graduation rather than how academically successful you were in your studies.
  • A student does not need endorsement by their university as being suitable for the graduate visa – a reference is not required.
  • A student doesn’t need to have a job before they can apply for a graduate visa but they do need to be in the UK on a student visa.
  • A student does not need a job offer from a sponsoring employer with a sponsor licence from the Home Office. All types of employment are open to a graduate on a graduate visa. This means a student isn’t restricted to employers with sponsor licence and isn’t limited to graduate level jobs.
  • A student can transfer or switch to a different type of visa once they have secured their graduate visa. For example, a student who obtained a graduate visa may want to switch from their post study visa to a skilled worker visa once they have found a graduate level job with training and long-term prospects offered by an employer with a Home Office issued sponsor licence. That is because the graduate visa doesn’t lead to settlement in the UK whereas the skilled worker visa does do so.

 Can I graduate and stay in the UK ?    

The answer to the question ‘ Can I graduate and stay in the UK ?’ is far easier for UK immigration solicitors to answer now we have the graduate visa. Prior to the 1 July  2021, there were options available, such as:

  • Post graduate study on a student visa.
  • Family visa as a dependant of a British citizen or settled person. For example, someone with indefinite leave to remain or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
  • Start-up visa for would-be entrepreneurs looking to start an innovative but scalable business in the UK.
  • Skilled worker visa for those graduates who are able to find skilled work at the required minimum salary threshold for the skilled worker visa with a UK employer who holds a sponsor licence and is willing to sponsor the student as a ‘new entrant’ under a skilled worker visa.

Now we have the graduate visa available to the international student there is far more flexibility and certainty that an overseas student will be able to stay in the UK after graduation as the eligibility criteria for the graduate visa are far less onerous than, for example, the start-up visa or the skilled worker visa.

The graduate visa will make international students very attractive to UK employers partially because there is now no immigration route for lower skilled workers following the end of free movement for EU nationals and the introduction of the UK points-based immigration system with its skill based skilled worker visa route.

Paradoxically, overseas students should be the ones who benefit most from the UK governments determination to reduce overall UK net migration figures because the graduate visa opens up a visa opportunity that wasn’t available to them before the end of the Brexit transition period on the 31 December 2020 and at a time when in many industries UK employers are crying out for employees having lost EU nationals as a source of labour.

The graduate visa – think of it as a chess piece

When you are an international student, you can think of yourself as a pawn on a chess set – without a great deal of power.Individual immigration is a bit like chess, you need to think ahead and plan your moves. If you are an overseas student, you know that you need to graduate and stay in the UK to apply for your post study visa. However, you need to think further ahead as a graduate visa will only last for two years (three if you have some types of post graduate qualification, for example, a PhD). You can't apply to extend the graduate visa and you can't count time spent in the UK on a graduate visa as part of your five-year residence requirement for an indefinite leave to remain application.

Therefore, if you are an international student who knows that they want to stay in the UK, and eventually secure indefinite leave to remain and British citizenship, the graduate visa is simply a stepping stone that can be used whilst you secure a sponsoring employer and switch to a skilled worker visa or if you have entrepreneurial skills and ambition to make a success with a start-up visa.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors 

For advice on any aspect of immigration law call the immigration team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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