As an international student in the UK, you’ll need to apply for permission to stay in the UK after you graduate. The Graduate Route offers student visa holders the opportunity to continue living and working in Britain after completing their studies, without the need to secure a job offer or employment sponsorship.
In this guide, we explain the key features of the Graduate Route, including what it allows you to do, the eligibility requirements and how to apply.
What is the UK graduate route?
The graduate route is for international students who have successfully completed a course of studies in the UK at degree level or above, and who wish to remain in the UK to work or look for work. It is a post-study employment visa aimed at recent overseas graduates to help these individuals obtain invaluable work experience and make important professional connections on successful completion of their undergraduate or postgraduate studies.
This is an unsponsored and flexible immigration route that will allow you to undertake work at any skill or salary level with any type of UK employer.
As the UK welcomes hundreds of thousands of high-potential overseas students to colleges and universities every year, the flexibility for many of these students to apply for work in the UK once they graduate is also designed to boost the UK economy. Once an individual has been granted leave under the graduate route, UK employers will be able to tap into a rich pool of global talent, without the costs and responsibilities associated with sponsorship.
What does the graduate route allow?
The graduate route provides international students who have been recently awarded a UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree with the opportunity to stay on to work or look for work in the UK. The graduate route is also available to international students who have completed one of a limited number of professional qualifications at degree level or above.
As an unsponsored work route, eligible applicants on the graduate route will not first need the offer of a job from a UK employer, as they would on other work routes, such as the skilled worker route. Equally, on the grant of a graduate visa, successful visa-holders can undertake any type of employment, without the need for their job role to meet any minimum skill or salary requirements. As such, graduate visa-holders will be able to work flexibly, switch positions and employers, and develop their chosen careers in the UK.
If you are granted a graduate visa, you will be allowed to earn an income and gain work experience in a number of jobs across various industry sectors. Any partner or dependent children currently living with you in the UK will also be able to apply on this route.
How long can you stay in the UK under the graduate route?
The length of a visa on the graduate route will depend on your level of degree qualification when you apply. If you graduate with a UK bachelor’s degree, a graduate visa will be granted for 2 years. This also applies to applicants who have recently obtained a professional qualification at degree level or above. If you graduate with a PHD or other doctoral qualification, you will be granted leave on the graduate route for 3 years.
For dependants applying at the same time, their visa should be granted in line with yours.
Graduate route requirements
The graduate route is one of the most flexible work routes under the UK’s points-based system, with no requirement for sponsorship, nor to shows funds or meet an English language requirement as prescribed under other routes. As a successful graduate, you will have already met a financial and English language requirement on the student route.
However, as a points-based route, there are other requirements that must be met to be granted a visa on the graduate route. Under Appendix Graduate of the UK’s Immigration Rules, you will need to score a total of 70 points for the following three requirements:
- a successful completion requirement
- a qualification requirement
- a study in the UK requirement.
Successful completion requirement
Under the successful completion requirement, you must have:
been previously sponsored by a student sponsor which is a higher education provider with a track record of compliance at the date of your application on the graduate route
successfully completed the course of study which was undertaken during your last grant of leave to study on the student route, and
your student sponsor must have notified UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) that you have successfully completed that course by the date of your application on the graduate route.
Under the qualification requirement, you must have successfully completed a course of study for which you have been or will be awarded a UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree, or successfully completed one of the following relevant qualifications:
- an approved law conversion course in England and Wales
- the legal practice course for solicitors in England and Wales, the solicitors course in N.Ireland or Scotland’s diploma in professional legal practice
- the bar practice course in England and Wales or the bar course in N.Ireland
- a foundation programme in either medicine or dentistry
- a postgraduate certificate or diploma in education
- a course in a profession with reserved activities regulated by UK law or public authority requiring study at UK bachelor’s degree level or above (such as medical doctors, architects, lawyers, teachers and nurses).
Study in the UK requirement
Under the study in the UK requirement, you must have held permission as a student, which was granted to study the relevant qualification in the UK, for a minimum period of time. The relevant period of time will depend on the length of your course as follows:
if your course was for 12 months or less, you must have studied for the full duration of that course in the UK
if your course was for 12 or more months, you must have studied in the UK on that course for at least 12 months.
However, there are certain exceptions under the rules in respect of distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic that may still apply to your period of study.
How to apply for the graduate route
To apply for leave to remain on the graduate route, you must complete an online application with UKVI prior to expiry of your existing student visa and still be in the UK. If you have previously been granted leave on this route, or under the Doctorate Extension Scheme, you will not be eligible to apply and your application will be rejected. You must also wait until your college or university has notified UKVI of completion of your course.
As part of your graduate application, you will need to prove your identity and pay the relevant fee. You may also need to re-enrol your biometrics. You will be told when you apply if you can use the ‘UK Immigration ID Check’ app or if you will need to schedule an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point.
Graduate route application supporting documents
When applying for leave to remain on the graduate route, you will need a number of documents in support. These include a valid passport or other travel document proving your identity. You will also need your biometric residence permit (BRP), if you were given one after you applied for your student visa, together with your CAS reference number.
You do not need to wait until you have graduated or received your degree certificate to apply, although you will need your CAS number from your student visa. The number will have been sent by your approved higher education provider when you were offered a place on the course you completed under your student visa. If you cannot find this number, you should contact your education provider before starting your new visa application.
It is also worth noting that if you have, in the 12 months prior to your visa application, been awarded a scholarship or sponsorship by either a Government or international scholarship agency covering both your fees and living costs for study in the UK, you must provide written consent to your visa application from that Government or agency.
How much does it cost to apply for the graduate route?
The cost of applying for a visa on the graduate route is currently £822, both for a 2-year or 3-year visa. You must also pay an immigration health surcharge to access any healthcare services offered by the UK’s NHS. This is in addition to the visa application fee.
The application fee and full healthcare surcharge will need to be paid upfront when you apply for your visa, although the surcharge will be refunded if your application is refused.
How long does it take to get a visa on the graduate route?
As with many applications to switch from inside the UK, an application for a visa on the graduate visa can take up to 8 weeks to process. However, provided you apply prior to expiry of your student visa, if your existing grant of leave runs out during this time, you can stay in the UK until you receive a decision on your application from UKVI.
The processing times for applications can vary, depending on how you applied. If you proved your identity using the ID check app, the processing time will start when your supporting documents are uploaded online. If you attended an appointment at an UKVCAS service point, the processing time will start after this appointment has taken place.
You must not leave the UK or Common Travel Area (CTA) while you are waiting for your decision on the graduate route, where to do so will risk your application being treated as withdrawn. This also means that if your student visa expires during your waiting time, and you have travelled overseas, you will be unable to re-enter the UK. The CTA is an open borders area that comprises the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. If you need to travel and cannot wait 8 weeks, you may be able to pay for a faster decision.
Once you receive your decision from UKVI, and provided your application is approved, you will be granted an eVisa. Visa nationals will also be given a new physical BRP for use when travelling in and out of the UK. In either case, you will be able to use the online right to work service to generate a share code to prove your right to work to any UK employer.
Can you extend a graduate visa?
Having been granted leave to remain on the graduate route, for either 2 or 3 years, there will be no option to re-apply for further leave. This is because the graduate visa cannot be extended and does not provide a path to settlement. However, if you would like to stay on in the UK, you may be eligible to switch into a different immigration route.
In many cases, especially if you have established invaluable work experience and important professional connections, you may be able to find a sponsor on one of the many other work routes. For example, if you have the offer of a suitably skilled and salaried job, you may be able to apply for a visa on the skilled worker route. Unlike the graduate route, any partner or dependent children living overseas will be able to join you in the UK on this route.
The skilled worker route will also provide you and your family with a path to settlement in the UK, where skilled workers and their dependants can apply for indefinite leave to remain after 5 years on this route. Even though any time spent on the graduate route will not count towards the qualifying continuous residence requirement for settlement, the graduate route will provide you with a golden opportunity to find a UK sponsor and the offer of a job role that meets the minimum skill and salary requirements for a skilled worker visa.
Does the Graduate Route lead to indefinite leave to remain?
No, time spent in the UK under the Graduate Route does not count towards the residency requirement for UK ILR. The Graduate Route offers temporary permission to stay in the UK, and as such does not offer a direct path to UK settlement. If you intend to stay in the UK on a longer term basis, you could use your period of leave under the Graduate Route to switch into an immigration category which can lead to indefinite leave to remain, such as the Skilled Worker visa.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists. For advice and guidance on your options to remain in the UK after your studies, contact us.
Graduate route FAQs
What does graduate route mean?
The graduate route is a points-based immigration route aimed at international students wanting to work in the UK, or look for work, following the successful completion of a UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree with an approved higher education provider.
Who is eligible for graduate route visa?
To be eligible to apply for a visa under the graduate route, you must be awarded a minimum of 70 points under the UK’s points-based system for a successful course completion, qualification and study in the UK requirement.
Are only 3% of UK employers using graduate route?
Research by the Higher Education Policy Institute has revealed that just 3% of UK employers have knowingly used the graduate route to employ overseas workers. This route therefore represents an important untapped source of global talent for UK businesses.
What is the graduate route for employers?
The graduate route is a flexible and unsponsored work route for recent overseas graduates in the UK who are looking for work. This provides UK employers with a pool of global talent, without the responsibilities of sponsoring migrant workers.
Last updated: 23 September 2023