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Will the Graduate Immigration Route live up to expectations?


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With the Brexit psychodrama continuing to monopolise airtime and public attention, it would be easy to overlook the government’s recent announcement of a new visa route for foreign students in the UK. Providing a bit of relief from the general doom and gloom, it promises a return to the halcyon days of the Tier 1 (Post Study Worker) visa: a two-year permit for students allowing them to work in any job they want, easing their access to careers in the UK and boosting the country’s appeal to the foreign student market. On the face of it, a win-win if ever there was one.

We now have some more details about this “Graduate Immigration Route” following the release of a handy Home Office factsheet. So what do we now know about the Graduate visa and — more importantly — will it live up to the hype?

Who can apply for the Graduate Immigration Route?

In a slight but significant departure from the old post study work visa, the Graduate Immigration Route is only available to graduates who have a Tier 4 student visa. To be eligible, the student must have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a UK higher education provider which has a “track record of compliance”.

What on earth is a “track record of compliance” and should I be worried about this?

Possibly, yes. This refers to a new regulatory regime for universities and colleges that sponsor international students for Tier 4 visas, granting those with a “track record of compliance” greater privileges for them and their students.

According to Home Office guidance, a track record of compliance means showing a history of “immigration compliance” and “educational oversight” (paragraph 4.6). Sponsors must also register with the Office for Students. 

The guidance sets out a complex system of oversight. It requires the Tier 4 sponsor to pass a series of compliance assessments over a four-year period to gain the status of Higher Education Provider.

Being a Higher Education Provider means that their foreign students are able to apply under the Graduate Immigration Route. Failure to pass these assessments could therefore lead to an institution losing this status and its newly minted graduates being unable to work in the UK using this route.

What this means is that a student’s ability to apply under the Graduate Immigration Route is indelibly intertwined with how well the university they are studying at is administered. This is something that a prospective student will have little knowledge of when picking a university, and current students will certainly have no involvement with while studying at it.

Meeting the requirements of the Graduate visa is not entirely within the applicant’s control. Foreign students could miss out on the visa for mistakes not of their own making.

What jobs can I do while on this visa?

Pretty much anything! The visa will last for two years, during which the holder can take any kind of employment at any skill level. (Another clear sign of Boris Johnson’s departure from the Conservative party’s obsession with cutting net migration.)

Universities will be pleased to hear that they will not need to monitor students once they move into this route, meaning they can cease to keep tabs on them.

Once the visa holder comes to the end of the two-year period, they will be able to switch into “skilled work”. In other words, they are likely to have an easier route to obtaining a Tier 2 (General) work visa, but will need to meet its skill and salary thresholds when they come to apply. 

Predictably, time spent on the Graduate visa will not count towards settlement. Holders will need to spend five further years as a Tier 2 (General) visa holder to qualify for indefinite leave to remain, or alternatively hope they can accumulate enough lawful residence to apply under the 10-year long residence route.

Sounds great. When can I apply?

Err… not until the summer of 2021, I’m afraid. Anyone graduating before then will not be able to apply and neither can former students apply retrospectively. This has led to current students feeling understandably miffed they have missed out. 

The Home Office has little sympathy, citing the fact that current students had no expectation of being able to work after their course when they started. It also says that the delay is justified as “it takes time to develop a new immigration route and ensure the framework is in place for it to successfully operate”. Let’s hope the creators of European Temporary Leave to Remain have taken note…

I am graduating with massive student debt and I really need a job to pay it off… any chance the government will help out by making the visa free of charge?

Of course not! This is the Home Office and visas mean big bucks! So there will be an application fee and the immigration health surcharge will be payable. Time to extend that overdraft again…

So some good news, some not so good. It is a two-year visa which will allow students a crucial period of time to get their foot in the door of the UK job market, making a move into Tier 2 (General) at a later stage much easier. Linking it to institutions having a “track record of compliance” does leave students with a degree of uncertainty on whether they will ultimately be able to apply for it.

We will have to wait to see whether these niggling concerns that this visa may not be all it’s cracked up to be are misplaced.

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Joanna Hunt

Joanna Hunt is a Partner and Head of Immigration at DAC Beachcroft. She advises and supports a range of businesses and individuals with their immigration needs, with emphasis on sponsorship and work based visas. She is contactable on johunt@dacbeachcroft.com and tweets from @JoannaHunt12