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The new Graduate route - considerations for employers and students

08 July 2021

The new Graduate route went live on 1 July 2021, opening up a flexible unsponsored route for eligible international students to stay in the UK after graduation. It has some advantages and drawbacks which employers and students should be aware of before deciding whether it is the preferred immigration option in all the circumstances.

For general information on the Graduate route and one example of when it may be appropriate to apply for it rather than applying under the Skilled Worker category directly after studies, see our previous article here.

We discuss further below some of the considerations that may be relevant in the employment context.

When will a person be eligible to apply under the Graduate route?

The pandemic has prompted the Home Office to temporarily modify the requirement that a Student visa holder must undertake their studies in the UK to qualify for immigration permission under the Graduate route.

Under a COVID-19 concession, a person who has UK immigration permission as a Student (including a Tier 4 student) will be allowed to switch into the Graduate route provided they apply from within the UK and meet the requirements of the route other than physically studying in the UK, and one of the following applies:

  • The Student started a course of 12 months or less in 2020 or Spring 2021 via distance learning, makes a successful Student visa application and arrives in the UK by 27 September 2021, or before their visa expires (whichever is earlier)
  • The Student started a course of 12 months or less in 2020 or 2021, has previously been physically in the UK on their Student visa and returns to the UK before their Student visa expires
  • The Student starts a course of 12 months or less in Autumn 2021 or Spring 2022 and enters the UK on their Student visa by 6 April 2022 – this includes Students sponsored to complete only the final year of their course in the UK, eg Students on an articulated degree programme
  • The Student is sponsored for a course lasting more than 12 months and completes distance learning either in the UK or abroad between 24 January 2020 and 27 September 2021, or distance learning abroad between 27 September 2021 and 6 April 2022 – the Student must also enter the UK before the expiry of their Student visa if this is due to expire before 6 April 2022 (otherwise they Student will be required to enter by 6 April 2022)

In all cases the Student is expected to make their Graduate route application before their Student immigration permission expires.

It will be important for employers to be aware of this concession and any extensions to it when considering the immigration options for a new hire, as it may not be immediately obvious that a person who is physically located abroad may be eligible to apply under the Graduate route. If the person is studying or has recently completed a relevant UK qualification, this should flag a potential for eligibility.

When might the Graduate route be the preferred option?

A person is only eligible to apply for the Graduate route from within the UK immediately after holding immigration permission as a Student. They can’t switch into the route from other immigration categories.

Therefore, if the person is offered a job for a fixed term contract that is less than three years (for those who have completed a PhD) or two years (for all other eligible graduates), they may prefer to pursue that option rather than a sponsored work visa of a lesser duration.

The length of the immigration permission may have to be weighed up against possibly foregoing time in an immigration category such as Skilled Worker, which is a route that leads to settlement.

Although time spent in the Graduate route does not directly lead to settlement, the fact that it is unsponsored means that it may be preferred in some circumstances, for example where the person anticipates becoming eligible for settlement under the ten year long residence route during the validity of their Graduate immigration permission.

When might an alternative route be the preferred option?

There are various scenarios in which an eligible person may prefer (or be obliged) to use another route.

For example, the person has been given a permanent job offer, they may prefer to move directly into the Skilled Worker route because this leads directly to settlement, whereas the Graduate route does not.

Another reason may be the desire to be joined by a partner or child who was not included as a dependant on the person’s Student permission. It is not possible for such a dependant to qualify for immigration permission as a dependant of a Graduate.

It is also worth being aware that if the person intends to continue studying a course that would qualify for the grant of Student immigration permission, they should make a further application as a Student. This is because they would be prohibited from studying this kind of course with Graduate immigration permission.

What if a new hire already has immigration permission under the Graduate route?

It is likely that the graduate may wish to move into the Skilled Worker or other route that leads to settlement as soon as possible rather than waiting until their Graduate immigration permission is due to expire.

In order to avoid any potential misunderstandings, employers should think about whether sponsorship is a possibility from the outset.

What other things should employers consider?

Employers should consider having a policy on whether, and in what circumstances, they may be willing to cover some or all of the costs of a Graduate application for a new hire.

They should also consider the overall costs of the various available options, taking into account things such as application fees, immigration health surcharge and immigration skills charge.

If you have any queries about the Graduate route or any of the issues raised in this article, please contact a member of our Immigration Team.


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