From this autumn, international students who study at UK universities will be able to stay and work for two years after graduation, by applying for the newly announced Graduate Immigration Route.
The Graduate Immigration Route will be available to international students who have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a higher education provider with a track record of compliance and who have a valid Tier 4 visa at the time of application.
Successful applicants on this route will be able to stay and work, or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for a maximum period of two years. Beyond that, graduates who have found skilled jobs, and who qualify for skilled work visas, will be able to switch visas in order to continue their careers in the UK.
This new visa category, announced in September 2019, will be open to applicants from summer 2021, which means that anyone starting a degree this autumn, and who has a valid Tier 4 visa when the new category opens for applications, will be eligible to apply.
While there has been some frustration about lack of detail about the new visa, the UK government has recently published updated guidance which confirmed that those studying by distance/blended learning as a result of changes forced on universities by Covid-19 will be eligible to apply for the Graduate route provided they are in the UK by 6 April 2021.
This is an important concession, given that Covid-19 could prevent some students from travelling to the UK on the normal timetable, although most UK universities have now confirmed that term will start more or less on the usual timetable this autumn. Some 97 per cent of UK universities have confirmed that they plan to provide some in-person teaching where possible and safe, supported by technology where necessary in order to keep staff and students safe.
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I get hundreds of questions from students who want to know the precise date when the visa will open – especially students who are already in the UK and want to know whether they will be eligible. This has yet to be confirmed.
While it is great that students will have the chance to apply for the visa and stay to work, we need to do more to help our international graduates make the first steps in their careers.
That’s why Universities UK International has been working with universities, and with the government to try to ensure that the Graduate Route translates into genuine opportunities for international graduates.
In January we published a report, Supporting International Graduate Employability: Making Good on the Promise, produced in partnership with the UK Council for International Student Affairs, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services and the University of Coventry. In it we looked at how universities support their international graduates to take their first steps in their careers. The report was not only intended to showcase some excellent initiatives within our universities, it also made recommendations about how this could be improved.
Additionally, former universities minister Jo Johnson has published a paper calling for the two years currently on offer via the Graduate Route to be extended to four years. This would give our graduates longer to develop their careers, increasing the likelihood that they stay and make a permanent contribution to the UK.
I’d also like us to do more to help the graduates who apply for this route to take their first career steps. In UUKi’s proposals to government for Kickstarting the International Recovery we propose a Graduate Export Placement Scheme, to help UK business build export markets, drawing on the language skills, knowledge and networks of the UK’s international graduates. This scheme, modelled on the Sheffield China Gateway scheme, originally supported by UK Trade and Investment, would place international graduates in small and medium-sized companies to help them develop the capacity to export to new markets.
We hope that this will help cement the UK’s position as one of the most attractive places in the world to study overseas. But we also firmly believe that it is in the UK’s own interest to keep graduates with us in the UK for some time after they graduate, so that they can help bolster the UK’s international networks and use the skills they have developed in our outstanding universities, to the benefit of the UK as well as to themselves as individual graduates.