Since opening in 2021, the UK’s Graduate Visa has become a popular route for international students to stay on in Britain after they’ve graduated.
If you are looking to apply for a Graduate visa, you’ll need to understand the eligibility criteria and the process to follow to make your application to the Home Office on time. If you do not secure lawful status after your student visa expires, you risk overstaying.
In this guide, we look at the various different requirements to qualify for a visa under the Graduate route, and the process, costs and timing involved when applying.
What is the UK Graduate Visa?
The Graduate Visa is a post-study work visa aimed at foreign students who are looking to stay on to work in the UK, or to look for work, having successfully completed a course of study at UK bachelor’s degree-level or above with a Home Office approved higher education provider.
As an unsponsored work route, visa applicants are not required to have a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) showing the offer of a job with a UK licensed sponsor meeting minimum skill and salary levels. This visa can be used to work in any type of job role or to spend time in the UK looking for work. If a Graduate Visa is granted, the visa-holder will be allowed to earn an income and gain work experience in a number of jobs across a wide range of UK businesses for a period of either 2 or 3 years, depending on the level of degree qualification.
Graduate visa requirements
The Graduate route is a flexible work route for overseas students already in the UK who want to find employment. Under this route, the applicant will not need to prove the offer of a job. They will also not be required to show funds or finance, or demonstrate any English language ability, as they will have already satisfied these requirements under the Student Visa route.
However, there are various other requirements that must still be met to be eligible for leave to remain under the Graduate route. As this route is an immigration route under the points-based system of the UK’s Immigration Rules, an applicant must be awarded a minimum of 70 points to apply. These points will be awarded for three different requirements: a successful completion requirement, a qualification requirement and a study in the UK requirement.
A successful completion requirement
Under the successful completion requirement for a Graduate Visa, the applicant must have last been sponsored by a Student sponsor in the UK which is a higher education provider with a track record of compliance at the date when they apply. The applicant must have successfully completed the course which was undertaken during their last grant of leave to study on the Student route and, by the date of application, their sponsor must have informed the Home Office that the applicant has completed their course of study to the required standard.
This means that an applicant will potentially qualify for a Graduate Visa if they have successfully completed the qualification specified on the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) linked to their Student Visa, or following any change of course which was permitted without them having to apply for further permission as a Student.
A qualification requirement
Under the qualification requirement for a Graduate Visa, the applicant must have completed a course of study for which they have been, or are due to be, awarded a UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree, or one of a number of professional qualifications at degree level of above. These qualifications include a validated law conversion course, the Legal Practice Course for solicitors, the Bar Practice Course for barristers, a foundation programme in Medicine or Dentistry, a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in Education, and any other professional course qualifying someone for a job regulated by UK law or a UK public authority.
This means that an applicant will potentially qualify for a Graduate Visa if they have either been awarded, or are due to be awarded, a bachelor’s or masters degree, or a PhD or other doctoral qualification, or any one of the prescribed professional qualifications.
A study in the UK requirement
Under the study in the UK requirement for a Graduate Visa, the applicant must have held permission as Student, which was granted to study the relevant qualification in the UK, for a minimum period of time. Apart from permitted study abroad programmes, this means that if the course length was for 12 months or less, the applicant must have studied for the full duration of that course in the UK. If the length of the course was for more than 12 months, the applicant must have studied in the UK on that course for at least 12 months.
For applicants who have studied remotely from their home country due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, they may still meet the study in the UK requirement, provided they have returned to the UK to make their application within a certain timeframe.
For example, where distance learning took place between 24 January 2020 and 30 June 2022, the applicant can still meet the study in the UK requirement if they commenced a course of 12 months or less before 21 June 2021 and entered the UK on or before 27 September 2021, or between 21 June 2021 and 30 June 2022 and entered the UK on or before 30 June 2022.
Any distance learning between 24 January 2020 and 30 June 2022, as part of a course of studies lasting longer than 12 months, will also not prevent the applicant from meeting the study in the UK requirement under the Graduate route.
How to apply for a Graduate Visa
An application for a Graduate Visa is an online application, although the applicant must be in the UK with valid leave on the Student route to be able to apply. They must also not have ever been granted leave under either the Doctorate Extension Scheme or as a Graduate.
An application can be made once the approved education provider has notified the Home Office that the applicant has successfully completed their course. The applicant does not have to wait until they have graduated, or received their degree or postgraduate degree certificate, although they will need to use the CAS number from their current Student Visa to apply. They will also be required to prove their identity, and may need to attend a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point to enrol their biometric information.
Having started an online application for a Graduate Visa, the applicant will be invited via email to use the ‘UK Immigration ID Check’ app if they are eligible to do so. If eligible, they will be able to verify their identity online, and their biometrics from their Student Visa application will be re-used. However, for ineligible applicants, they will instead need to attend an in-person appointment at a UKVCAS service point to complete their application.
If their application is successful, a graduate with a PhD or other doctoral qualification will be granted permission to stay on in the UK for a period of 3 years, while a successful applicant with a UK bachelor’s degree-level qualification will be granted permission to stay for 2 years.
How much does the Graduate Visa cost?
Having submitted an online application for a Graduate Visa, the applicant must pay a fee of £715. The cost of applying under the Graduate route is the same for degree level and postgraduate level applicants, even though doctoral students will be granted a longer visa.
The applicant will also be liable to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, giving them access to the UK’s National Health Service on generally the same basis as a permanent resident in the UK. However, this will be calculated for each year of stay, at an annual rate of £624. This means that the healthcare surcharge will be charged at £1872 for permission on the 3-year PhD Graduate route or £1248 for permission on the standard 2-year Graduate route.
How long does the Graduate Visa take to process?
Having submitted an online application, paid the relevant fee and, where applicable, the applicant’s biometric information has been re-enrolled, a Graduate Visa will usually take up to 8 weeks to process, although the applicant can stay in the UK while they wait for a decision.
The point at which the estimated 8-week turnaround time will run depends on whether the applicant is required to attend an UKVCAS service point to enrol their biometric information, or whether the applicant is eligible to use the ‘UK Immigration ID Check’ app instead. When using the app, the 8 weeks will run from the point at which the applicant’s identity has been verified online and any supporting documents uploaded. If the applicant is required to attend an UKVCAS service point, time will run from the date of that appointment.
If permission to stay on the Graduate route is granted, the applicant will typically be given digital immigration status, known as an eVisa. Visa nationals will also be given a new Biometric Residence Permit for use when travelling in and out of the UK. If an individual with a Graduate Visa is offered a job, even though they do not require sponsorship, they will still need to prove their right to work. This can be done by providing their employer with a share code to check their immigration status using the online Right to Work Checking Service.
Can dependants join you on a Graduate Visa?
Under the Graduate route, the partner and dependent children of the primary visa-holder may be able to apply to stay on in the UK, provided they are already in the UK as a dependant on the Student route and meet the eligibility requirements. A child born in the UK during permission to stay on the Student route can also apply. The eligibility requirements for a dependant visa on the Graduate route include a relationship requirement, together with an additional age and care requirement for dependent children.
The application fee for dependants on the Graduate route is again £715, where they must apply separately. They will also have to pay the healthcare surcharge, although this is reduced to £470 per year for under 18’s. If an application is successful, a dependent partner will be granted permission ending on the same date as their partner’s permission, while permission for a dependent child will end on the same date as the parents’ permission that ends first.
After your Graduate Visa expires
The Graduate Visa cannot be extended and does not provide a path to settlement. This means that, once leave to remain on this route expires, after either 2 or 3 years, the visa-holder and any dependants in the UK will need to consider switching to a different route to avoid overstaying. By applying to switch to a different visa, for example, the Skilled Worker route, which is also a route to settlement, new dependants may be able to come to the UK.
To qualify for a visa under the Skilled Worker route, the principal applicant would need to have a valid CoS from a licensed sponsor, with the offer of a job meeting the minimum skill and salary requirements under this route. Any dependants would also need to meet the eligibility requirements as a partner or dependent child, including a financial requirement.
As permission to work in the UK under a Graduate Visa is time-limited, employers will be required to conduct repeat right to work checks when an employee’s permission to work in the UK is due to expire. This means that steps must be taken to ensure that the requirements for a suitable alternative work visa can be met, if the employee is to continue to be employed, and that a valid application is submitted prior to expiry of their Graduate Visa. Where applicable, the employer must also ensure that they have a sponsorship licence in place. For example, on the Skilled Worker route, the employer must be authorised by the Home Office to sponsor a migrant worker under this route. They must also be able to offer genuine employment in an eligible skilled occupation that meets the salary threshold.
DavidsonMorris are experienced UK immigration advisers, working with UK employers and workers to support with work visa applications. For specialist advice, contact us.
Graduate visa FAQs
How long does it take to get Graduate Visa?
Having submitted an online application, paid the relevant fee and, where applicable, enrolled your biometric information, a Graduate Visa will usually take up to 8 weeks, although you can stay in the UK while you wait for a decision.
What is a Graduate Visa?
The Graduate Visa is an unsponsored work visa for overseas graduates wanting to work in the UK, or to look for work, following the successful completion of a UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree with an approved higher education provider.
How do you qualify for a Graduate Visa?
To qualify for a Graduate Visa you must be awarded a minimum of 70 points under the UK’s points-based system for a successful course completion requirement, a qualification requirement and a study in the UK requirement.
Can Graduate Visa be rejected?
A Graduate Visa can be rejected if the applicant fails to meet the validity requirements under Appendix Graduate, for example, they must be in the UK when they apply and must have, or have last had, leave as a Student.
Last updated: 2 January 2023