The Graduate Visa –coming soon to international students and UK employers
Just when employers thought that they were beginning to understand the new points-based immigration system work visa routes for both EU and non-EEA skilled and lower skilled workers, the government has announced the new graduate visa route. Bizarrely, despite being called the ‘graduate visa’, graduates can fill jobs at any skill level. The graduate visa will therefore be very welcome to both international students and UK employers. In this blog, partner and head of the business immigration team at OTS Solicitors, Hans Sok Appadu, takes a look at the new graduate visa and how it will help UK employers.
UK Immigration solicitors
For advice on the new graduate visa or help with any aspect of business immigration law call the immigration law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.
The new graduate route
The Home Office is launching a new graduate visa route from the 1 July 2021. The new graduate visa is contained in a statement of changes to the Immigration rules, published on the 4 March 2021.
The graduate visa will enable overseas students to stay in the UK for work after completion of their UK studies. The graduate visa is being welcomed by Immigration solicitors and UK employers as an alternative to recruiting skilled migrant workers on the new skilled worker visa.
The benefits of the graduate visa for UK employers
The graduate visa doesn’t just benefit international students but also UK employers because:
- A UK employer doesn’t need a Home Office issued sponsor licence to recruit an EU or non-EEA graduate under a graduate visa.
- If a UK employer has a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence then if they recruit overseas workers on a graduate visa, they don’t have to assign a certificate of sponsorship or comply with sponsor requirements, although they do need to carry out right to work checks, as is the case for every employee.
- A graduate employee can be employed to do any type of work, from barista to construction worker, as there is no minimum skill level for the job or minimum salary threshold for the graduate visa , although the UK employer will of course have to pay the national minimum wage or above.
In essence, the graduate visa gives UK employers the flexibility that they lack with the skilled worker visa and is one option to fill entry level jobs that they cannot fill with UK settled workers and can't recruit EU skilled migrant workers to undertake, as they would historically have done before Brexit and the end of free movement.
Who can apply for a graduate visa?
From the 1 July 2021 international students studying in the UK who have successfully completed an eligible qualification will be able to apply for a graduate visa. An applicant for a graduate visa can be an eligible international student who is in the UK on a Tier 4 student visa.
Importantly, applicants for the graduate visa apply for the visa in the UK so they don’t have to return home on completion of their studies to make their graduate visa application from their home country. However, no graduate visa applicant should overstay on their current visa before making a graduate visa application as that will affect the prospects of successfully securing a graduate visa.
For this year’s students the question is whether they can apply for the graduate visa if their student visa expires before the 1 July 2021. The answer is that they can't as the route only opens on the 1st July.
How long does the graduate visa last for?
A key consideration for employers is the length of visa an overseas worker can secure as understandably most UK employers want to invest in further training for their graduate recruits and don’t necessarily want short-term staff with all the consequent recruitment hassle to secure new employees with the right skill sets.
A successful graduate visa applicant will get UK entry clearance for:
- Three years if they completed a PhD or other doctorate or
- Two years for any other eligible qualification.
The graduate visa can't be extended by an application to the Home Office but a graduate on a graduate visa can apply to switch to a different type of visa but they must make their switch application prior to the expiry of their graduate visa.
What are the eligible qualifications for a graduate visa?
There are a large number of eligible qualifications for the graduate visa and they include:
- A UK bachelor degree.
- A UK postgraduate degree.
- A professional course requiring study at UK bachelor level or above in a profession with reserved activities regulated by UK law or by a UK public authority.
- For law students; a law conversion course valid in England and Wales or the legal practice course or the bar practice course or equivalent.
- A foundation programme in medicine or dentistry.
- A postgraduate diploma or certificate in education.
Graduate visa applicants will need to check their qualification meets the eligibility criteria. Importantly, the graduate does need to have been present in the UK for their studies. A UK administered course undertaken fully by remote learning undertaken overseas doesn’t meet the criteria.
What jobs can a graduate do on a graduate visa?
Unlike a graduate who applies for a skilled worker visa as a new entrant, a graduate visa holder can be employed by a UK employer to carry out a job at any skill level and there is no visa related minimum salary threshold that an employer has to meet to enable the student to apply for the graduate visa. The graduate visa therefore offers a great deal of flexibility for both international students and UK employers.
Can a graduate settle in the UK on a graduate visa?
Employers looking to invest in long-term employees will want to know if graduates can settle in the UK on a graduate visa. The Immigration rules say that the graduate visa doesn’t lead to direct settlement in the UK and time spent in the UK on a graduate visa doesn’t count towards the minimum five-year residence requirement for an indefinite leave to remain application. Time spent on the graduate visa does count towards an Indefinite Leave to Remain application based on meeting the ten-year long residence requirement.
The disadvantage of the graduate visa not leading to UK settlement after five years have to be weighed against the advantage of a graduate not being restricted to securing a job that meets the skilled criteria under the skilled worker visa eligibility criteria.
In addition, a graduate visa holder can apply to switch to a skilled worker visa if they can secure a job with an employer who holds a Tier 2 sponsor licence and their job meets the skill and minimum salary threshold for the skilled worker visa. Time spent in the UK on the skilled worker visa can lead to UK settlement.
A graduate who switches from a graduate visa to a skilled worker visa may qualify as a ‘new entrant’ which means there is a lower minimum salary threshold for them as a skilled worker visa holder.
How does the graduate visa fit with the new entrant skilled worker visa?
Some HR directors have thought the eligibility criteria for the new graduate visa and the eligibility criteria for a ‘new entrant’ under the skilled worker visa will be identical but they aren’t. The list of qualifications for a new entrant on a skilled worker visa are far narrower than the qualifications accepted for the graduate visa.
Whilst an international student on a student visa may prefer to try to secure entry as a new entrant on the skilled worker visa(as that time counts towards the residence requirement for an indefinite leave to remain application) an employer may find it preferable to recruit an international student on a graduate visa because of the flexibility it provides, most notably the lack of need to sponsor the employee.
A graduate could also reap some benefit of securing a graduate visa, as opposed to a new entrant skilled worker visa, because:
- The student doesn’t need a job offer from a UK employer before they apply for the graduate visa.
- The student can take their time to find the right long-term career for them without having to find a new sponsoring employer under a skilled worker visa before the student can change Employment.
- Once the graduate has found the right career path, they can switch to a new entrant skilled worker visa provided that their UK employer holds a Tier 2 sponsor licence. An application to switch to the new entrant skilled worker visa must be made within two years of having permission to be in the UK on the graduate visa. In addition, time spent on the graduate visa counts towards the four-year maximum period a graduate can remain as a ‘new entrant’.
The graduate visa and family dependants
The family members of graduate visa applicants can apply for a dependant visa, provided:
- They are in the UK and
- They were last granted a dependant visa as the family member of the graduate visa applicant. In other words, if a student had dependent family members with them, then those family members can apply for a new dependant visa when the student switches from a student visa to a graduate visa at the end of their studies, but new dependents can't join a visa holder on the graduate route.
The graduate visa – an opportunity for international students and UK businesses
The graduate visa is an opportunity for both international students and UK businesses as it offers far greater flexibility than the skilled worker visa. Whilst the graduate visa route won't be open until the 1 July 2021, immigration solicitors are already receiving interest from international students and UK employers. For advice on whether the graduate visa would best meet your overseas recruitment needs and how it could tie in with a sponsor licence application and Tier 2 skilled worker visa sponsorship contact OTS Solicitors.
UK Immigration solicitors
For specialist advice on the graduate visa and other work visa and business immigration solutions call the immigration law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.