“You’re trying to seduce me, Mrs Robinson! … Aren’t you?”
– The Graduate, 1967
“You’re trying to traduce me, Mrs Braverman! … Aren’t you?”
– A graduating international student, 2023
The Home Office opened the Graduate visa route for applications on 1 July 2021. International students who have completed an eligible course at a UK university can apply under this category and may stay in the UK and work or look for work for up to 2 years. If they have a PhD or other doctoral qualification, that increases to 3 years. It cannot, however, be extended and so to remain beyond those periods an individual would then need to apply either for a Skilled Worker visa or under an alternative route.
Unlike Skilled Worker visas, the Graduate visa route does not require employer sponsorship, nor does it require the job to be at a specific level or in specified roles. As such it is an excellent option for employers who do not hold a sponsorship licence from the Home Office or where the roles that they are trying to fill are ineligible for sponsorship. There can also be advantages for both employers and employees in at least considering this route as a preliminary step to sponsorship.
Yet despite this, a report earlier this year by the Higher Education Policy Institute revealed that only around 3% of UK employers were knowingly using the route. That’s a surprising statistic as while its current form may only date from 2021, there had previously been a post-study work visa route until it was scrapped by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2012. Its re-introduction followed years of campaigning by universities, employers, and groups such as the CBI, and was seen as a necessary step to address chronic labour shortages and for the UK to compete with other developed economies which offered similar visas.
“We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files”
Employers competing with their rivals to attract the best candidates under the Skilled Worker route often find themselves offering to meet the applicants’ visa fees and the NHS surcharge, simply to encourage them to join their business. That can represent a significant outlay and employers will want to ensure that they have chosen wisely when recruiting migrant workers. With Graduate visas only valid for a 2- or 3-year period it gives employers an opportunity to evaluate candidates and see whether they have the relevant skills and are a good ‘fit’ for their organisation and its culture before considering sponsoring them for a Skilled Worker visa.
“We’d like to help you learn to help yourself”
In addition, as a recruitment tool, the Graduate visa also allows employers a window within which they can provide individuals with the additional training and experience that may enable them to apply for a role at a more senior level, possibly one that is eligible for sponsorship when the initial role itself might not have been.
“Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home”
There are also advantages for employees in choosing to apply for this over the Skilled Worker visa. Individuals may feel pressured into taking the first job offered and may find themselves working in a role, a sector, or for an employer that ultimately proves unsuitable. Equally, there is always the risk that the individual may lose their job through no fault of their own, as a result of restructuring or redundancy, for example. Under the Skilled Worker route if for whatever reason the sponsored employment ends, individuals have just 60-days to find alternative employment in the UK or must leave the country. The Graduate visa route allows them a greater degree of flexibility in such cases.
“Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes”
The reality is the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy towards would-be migrants and the current Secretary of State, Suella Braverman, advocating reducing net migration to just 100,000 annually – a figure which would include the Student and Graduate visa routes. Earlier this year plans were reported for the maximum period an individual could remain in the UK under the Graduate visa to be limited to just 6 months, with those plans understood only to have been abandoned following opposition from the Department for Education. It should also be remembered that the route has already been withdrawn once.
There is therefore no guarantee that the Graduate visa will remain a permanent fixture of UK immigration law, but while it does exist both employers and individuals alike may find it a useful option.