Nicole  Hambleton
Posted on 23 Mar 2021

New Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules – the Graduate Route

A new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules (HC1248) was published by the Home Office on 4 March 2021. The majority of the changes (which, in true Home Office style, are captured over an extensive 108 page document and can be found here) relate to work and study routes, although there are also some amendments included to other parts of the Rules.

For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the introduction of the Graduate Route and will take a look at the potential effect this may have for UK businesses looking to hire international talent.

The Graduate Route (which was initially announced by the Government back in 2019), which will go live on 1 July 2021 under "Appendix Graduate" of the Immigration Rules, is for international students who have successfully completed an eligible course with a Home Office approved Higher Education Provider ("HEP").

It enables them to apply in-country for further permission to stay under the route. Successful applicants will be granted immigration permission for three years if they completed a PhD or other doctorate, or two years for any other eligible qualification.

In order to apply for this visa, potential candidates must be able to satisfy the following eligibility criteria:

  1. They must have successfully completed their studies as a student at a HEP, which is a student sponsor with a "track record of compliance";
  2. Obtained a bachelor's degree, master's degree or certain professional qualifications, e.g. Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) for teachers; and
  3. Be in the UK for a minimum length of time, depending on the duration of the course (exemptions will apply between January 2020 and September 2021, where travel was/is restricted due to the Coronavirus pandemic).

Track record of compliance

In line with the Home Office guidance, a track record of compliance means showing a history of compliance with the relevant Immigration Rules, as well as educational oversight. The relevant HEP sponsors must also be registered with the Office for Students.

In order to qualify as a HEP, the educational sponsor is required to pass a series of assessments over a four-year period. If they successfully achieve a track record of compliance, this means that their international students will be able to apply for leave to remain in the UK under the Graduate Route. Therefore, the individual's ability to apply for the Graduate Route is not entirely under their control, and will depend, at least in part, on whether the educational institution which they attended has achieved and maintained a track record of compliance under the Immigration Rules.

What jobs can applicants do while on this visa?

In short, anything! All kinds of work, at any skill or pay level, are permitted (save for being a professional sportsperson). It is therefore highly likely that Graduate visa holders will become a vital pool for employers as an alternative to sponsoring individuals under the Skilled Worker or Intra – Company Transfer route, due to the level of flexibility in respect of job type and level. Further, UK employers will not require a Sponsor Licence to employ these visa holders, which will certainly make the on-boarding experience much simpler and less cumbersome than, for example, the Skilled Worker routes.

How will this impact on UK business?

As set out above, the Graduate Route will broaden the pool of international talent who will be permitted to stay in the UK, after the completion of their studies, and have unrestricted access to the labour market for two or three years . Following the restrictions on international hires imposed by Brexit, this is likely to be a welcome reform.

Currently, international students are able to study in the UK, most commonly under a Student visa. Once they have completed their studies, they will need to line up a sponsored position, prior to the expiration of their leave as a Student, to secure their stay in the UK. As stated above, this is commonly under the Skilled Worker route and is subject to various eligibility requirements, including job type, skill level and salary, which can often impose barriers to the recruitment process. Under the new Graduate Route, there is total flexibility in relation to these criteria, and so this will reduce the current restrictions on international hires and broaden the pool of talent from which employers can recruit.  

If you have any questions about the content of this article, or anything else, please get in contact with Nicole Hambleton or Philip Barth.