The new graduate visa route opened on 1 July 2021, allowing international students to stay in the UK post-graduation to work or look for work at any skill level for either 2 or 3 years. This provides an opportunity for employers to recruit international talent regardless of whether or not they have a sponsor licence and without having to pay the costs involved in sponsorship.

Who is eligible for the visa?

In order to apply, the applicant must:

  • have a valid Tier 4 (General) or Student visa;
  • have completed an eligible course (typically a degree at UK Bachelor's degree level or above) at a UK Higher Education provider;
  • have not previously held permission on the Doctorate Extension Scheme (which will close on the opening of the graduate route) or had a graduate route visa previously.

Individuals can only apply from inside the UK and they must do so before their student or Tier 4 visa expires. If their visa expired before the visa route opened on 1 July 2021 they will not be eligible to apply.  There are no minimum salary requirements. Applicants do not need to demonstrate their English language ability as their degree will be proof of this.

The UK Government has granted concessions in relation to this visa to international students who have been unable to travel to the UK to study because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More information can be found here.

If we employ someone with a graduate route visa, what type of work can they do?

Individuals are able to undertake work at any skill level and there are no minimum salary requirements. They can also work on a self-employed basis. They can change jobs too.

How long is the visa valid for?

Undergraduates and masters degree students are eligible to apply for this visa to stay in the UK for two years after graduation. Those with a PhD are able to apply for a 3 year visa. Individuals will not be able to extend the visa and they can only hold it once.

The time spent in the UK on the graduate route will not count towards indefinite leave to remain or settlement, but individuals will be eligible to transfer into other routes, such as the Skilled Worker route to stay in the UK on a more permanent basis.

If the visa is for a set period of time, should we employ the individual on a fixed term contract?

There is no requirement to engage the individual on a fixed term contract but you may decide to do so. What is important is that the employment is terminated at the end of the visa period if the individual does not obtain some other form of permission to work. 

Right to work checks should be carried out in the usual way before the employment commences and you should diarise ahead to carry out a repeat check before their visa expires.

How much does the visa cost?

The application fee for the visa is £700. Applicants will also have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge fee which is set a £624 per year of the visa. Employers do not have to pay any costs towards the graduate visa. No immigration skills charge is payable.

How does the application process work?

The visa route opened on 1 July 2021. Applicants will need to complete an online form and will be subject to the usual security, criminality and I.D checks.

Do we need a sponsor licence for this visa route?

Not at the outset of the employment or during the 2 or 3 year period of the visa. However, if you employ someone on a graduate route visa, it is likely that they will ask to be sponsored before their visa is due to expire and you will need a sponsor licence if you wish to do so. 

Whether or not you can sponsor them will depend on whether they are working in a role that is sufficiently skilled in order to be suitable for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route

If you wish to sponsor (and retain) the individual, you should ensure that you apply for a sponsor licence several months in advance of the visa expiry date. UKVI estimate that their processing time for a sponsor licence application is 8 weeks once the application and documents have been submitted.

Do we need to make any changes to our recruitment processes?

Excluding job applicants who have (or who could obtain) a graduate route visa could give rise to a race discrimination claim (unless the employer has a good reason which may objectively justify excluding them from a recruitment process). 

You may wish to review your job application forms, questions about right to work and guidance for recruiting managers to ensure that candidates are not unfairly excluded from a recruitment process. In most cases, they should be considered on a level playing field with other resident workers.

If you have any queries about any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact Elaine McIlroy, Erin McLafferty or a member of the employment and immigration team.