Return of the Post Study work visa - new graduate immigration route for international students
Following hot on the heels of the UK Government’s September announcement about the return of the Post Study Work Visa, more details about this exciting new visa route for international students have been released this week. It will be launched in the summer of 2021 and called the ‘Graduate Immigration Route.’
The Post Study Work Route had previously been abolished in 2012 in a bid to reduce net migration figures. However, Australia and Canada already offer post study work visas so the failure of successive Governments to resurrect this offering placed the UK at a competitive disadvantage when enticing international students to study in the UK.
Following seven years of intense lobbying by the higher education sector, the new Graduate Immigration visa promises to help the UK position itself as a first choice study destination in a competitive – and highly lucrative – international student market.
The new Graduate Immigration visa route will allow eligible international students studying any subject at a higher education provider to work in the UK, or look for work, for a two year period following completion of their studies. The Graduate Immigration work visa will also provide UK employers with the flexibility to hire highly skilled international graduates from top UK Universities without the constraints of Tier 2 sponsorship.
Who can apply for a Graduate Immigration visa?
The key eligibility requirements are that the international student must:
- Hold a valid Tier 4 (General) student visa at the time of their application; and
- Have successfully completed a course of study in the UK at undergraduate level or above (RQF 6 +); and
- Have studied at a Higher Education Provider with a track record of compliance.
There appears to be no cap on international student numbers who will be able to apply under this new route. International students will also not require a sponsor (or Certificate of Sponsorship) to apply for a Graduate Immigration visa. However, there will be a visa application fee payable, as well as the Immigration Health surcharge.
What does a ‘track record of compliance’ mean?
Subject to holding a ‘track record of compliance,’ the new Graduate Immigration work visa may also benefit international students undertaking degree level study or above at a wider range of Higher Education Providers than only trusted UK universities.
Following Higher Education Regulatory Reform introduced from 1 August 2019, Tier 4 sponsors offering higher education courses can establish such a ‘track record of compliance’ by meeting the following criteria:
- Be registered or regulated by a specific Educational Oversight body (for English Higher Education Providers, this is the Office for Students); and
- Pass a Home Office Basic Compliance Assessment (BCA) for four consecutive years. BCAs measure a Tier 4 sponsor’s international student enrolment, course completion and visa refusal rates of their prospective sponsored students. Failure to meet core metrics on an annual basis risks revocation of their Tier 4 sponsor licence; and
- Maintain Educational Oversight for four consecutive years.
Education providers which can establish a track record of compliance are now referred to as Higher Education Providers (HEP). International students studying at a HEP can now benefit from a wide range of privileges and enhanced visa conditions, including working a certain number of hours per week and applying to extend their stay from within the UK. Further to the recent Government announcement, it appears that being able to apply for a two year Graduate Immigration Visa will be added to the list of Tier 4 privileges.
When will this new Graduate Immigration visa be available?
The Government has now confirmed that the Graduate Immigration visa route will be launched in the summer of 2021. This means that any Tier 4 (General) students starting their course in academic year 2020-2021 will be eligible to apply. Any international student with current Tier 4 (General) leave who will complete their degree course in or after the summer of 2021 will also be eligible to apply for this new Graduate Immigration work visa.
This announcement is therefore disappointing for international students graduating this year or next summer 2020. Those Tier 4 graduates will have to rely on the existing post study work routes, including Tier 2 (General) visa sponsorship or the new Start Up or Innovator categories for business entrepreneurs.
Does the Graduate Immigration visa lead to settlement in the UK?
The two year Post Study Work visa will not be extendable and will not lead to settlement. However, the recent Government announcement makes clear that successful Graduate Immigration route applicants can thereafter switch to the Tier 2 skilled work route, which does lead to settlement in the UK.
Post Brexit Boost?
The launch of the Graduate Immigration Visa Route is part of the Government’s International Education Strategy whereby the UK wants to increase education exports to £35 billion and the number of international students to 600,000 by 2030. Other changes recently welcomed are the new fast-track visa route for scientists, the removal of the limit on PhD students moving into the skilled work visa route and further rule changes to bring forward the earliest point at which a Tier 4 student can switch to a Tier 2 visa.
These positive steps indicate that Boris Johnson’s Government is keen to show to the world that a post Brexit UK aims to retain the brightest and the best.
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