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Staying on after study: a whistle-stop tour of the UK Graduate visa rules
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Staying on after study: a whistle-stop tour of the UK Graduate visa rules

The Graduate immigration route is for international students who have completed a degree or other higher educational qualification in the UK. It allows people who previously had a Student visa to:

  1. work in the UK after their degree/qualification is completed
  2. in a job at any skill level or salary, for a period of two years (or three years following a PhD/doctorate)

There is no requirement to have a sponsor in order to apply under this route. In addition, dependants are permitted. The application costs £700 plus the NHS surcharge.

It is not possible to extend a Graduate visa. Applications will be rejected as invalid if the person previously had permission to stay under the Graduate route (or the old Doctorate Extension Scheme).

Would-be Graduates must be in the UK when they apply and should not leave the Common Travel Area whilst their application is pending.

Importantly, the Graduate route does not lead to settlement.

Appendix Graduate

The requirements are in Appendix Graduate to the Immigration Rules. This is supplemented by guidance for Home Office caseworkers.

The Graduate rules are split into six categories:

  1. validation
  2. suitability
  3. eligibility
  4. successful completion
  5. qualification
  6. study in the UK

Let’s consider each of these requirements in turn.

Requirements

1. Validation

The first few paragraphs of Appendix Graduate contain requirements that will render the application invalid if not met. An invalid application is bad news because the person’s immigration permission will not be rolled over while it is being considered.

GR 1.1. A person applying for permission to stay as a Graduate must apply online on the gov.uk website on the specified form “Graduate”.

The online form is accessible from the Graduate visa pages on the government website. Applicants need to create a UK Visas and Immigration account.

GR 1.2. An application for permission as a Graduate must meet all the following requirements:

(a) any fee and Immigration Health Charge must have been paid; and

(b) the applicant must have provided any required biometrics; and

(b) the applicant must have provided a passport or other travel document which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality; and

(d) the applicant must be in the UK.

GR 1.3. The applicant must have, or have last had, permission as a Student.

GR 1.4. The applicant must not have been previously granted permission under the Doctorate Extension Scheme or as a Graduate.

So last time Student, first time Graduate. The caseworker guidance explains more about the GR 1.3 rule on previous permission:

The caseworker must check the applicant has, or has last had, permission as a Student. For the purpose of this requirement, this means an applicant must either:

  • currently hold valid permission on either the Student route or the Tier 4 (General) route
  • have held valid permission on the Student or Tier 4 (General) routes which expired but either one of the paragraph 39E exceptions for overstayers applies or the applicant has been given a period of exceptional assurance and has not overstayed that period. In either case, the period of overstaying will be disregarded when considering their application.

Scholarship recipients also need to meet the following extra requirement:

GR 1.5. If the applicant has in the 12 months before the date of application been awarded a scholarship or sponsorship by a Government or international scholarship agency covering both fees and living costs for study in the UK, they must provide written consent to the application from that Government or agency.

Paragraph GR 1.6 confirms that “an application which does not meet all the validity requirements for a Graduate [i.e. paragraphs GR 1.1 to 1.5] is invalid and may be rejected and not considered”.

2. Suitability

Paragraph GR 2.1 says that applicants must not fall foul of the general grounds for refusal in Part 9 of the Rules. These cover things like criminal offences or lying to the Home Office.

GR 2.2 stops people who have overstayed (or are on immigration bail) from applying. The only exceptions are where the person can rely on the two-week grace period in paragraph 39E of the Rules, or had an “exceptional assurance” related to COVID-19.

3. Eligibility

The final four sets of requirements express the simple idea that the person needs to have graduated from a UK higher education course.

Paragraph GR 3.1 says that applicants need to score a total of 70 “points” for “successful course completion”. This is defined as meeting three requirements: “successful completion”; “qualification” and “study in the UK”. There is no other way to score the points.

4. Successful completion

Paragraphs GR 4.1 to 4.3 say that the applicant must have “successfully completed the[ir] course of study”; their university/higher education provider must have notified the Home Office of that “by the date of application”; and the provider must have a “track record of compliance on the date of application”.

“Successfully completed” is a technical term in this context. Paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules defines it as meaning:

the Student or Child Student has completed their course and been assessed by their sponsor, and has been or will be awarded, a qualification that is:

(a) for the course of study for which their Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies was assigned; or

(b) a degree at either UK Bachelor’s degree level or UK postgraduate degree level, as part of an integrated programme for which their Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies was assigned; or

(c) for the course of study with their student sponsor to which they were allowed to change without applying for further permission on the Student route.

In terms of final course results being provided, note that the Graduate guidance says:

If a notification has not been received from the Student Sponsor, but the CAS shows that the applicant had been studying a qualifying qualification, the caseworker must not refuse the application if it would otherwise be granted. Instead, the caseworker must contact the Sponsor asking for confirmation that the student has successfully completed the course of study.

The guidance also fleshes out the “track record of compliance” stipulation:

Caseworkers must check the Register of Student sponsors to ensure that the Student Sponsor is a higher education provider with a track record of compliance on the date of application. Sponsors which are HEPs are listed as ‘Student sponsor – track record’ on the Register of Student Sponsors.

Applicants will also need to provide their previous Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number.

5. Qualification

The qualification requirement says that the applicants must have successfully completed (even if not yet officially awarded) a UK bachelor’s degree, a postgraduate degree, or a qualification listed in paragraph GR 5.2.

The GR 5.2 qualifications are:

(a) a law conversion course validated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales; or

(b) the Legal Practice Course in England and Wales, the Solicitors Course in Northern Ireland, or a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice in Scotland; or

(c) the Bar Practice Course in England and Wales, or the Bar Course in Northern Ireland; or

(d) a foundation programme in Medicine or Dentistry; or

(e) a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE); or

(f) a professional course requiring study at UK bachelor’s degree level or above in a profession with reserved activities that is regulated by UK law or UK public authority.

Paragraph 6 of the Rules links to a list of regulated professions. According to the guidance, if it is not clear whether or not a qualification meets the requirement, the caseworker should ask their manager or the Home Office policy team.

6. Study in the UK

Paragraph GR 6.1 requires the person to have been physically in the UK for a minimum period. If the course relied upon was more than 12 months in length, then “at least 12 months” of that course needs to have been undertaken in the UK. If the course was 12 months or less, then the whole course needs to have been completed in the UK.

There are exceptions related to COVID-19 and time spent studying abroad as part of the course.

COVID-19 exceptions

6.2 of Appendix GR provides:

GR 6.2. Where distance learning took place overseas between 24 January 2020 and 27 September 2021, this will not prevent the applicant meeting the requirement to spend the relevant period at GR 6.1. studying in the UK if:

(a) they began their course in 2020 and entered the UK on or before 21 June 2021 and complete that course of study in the UK with permission as a Student; or

(b) they began their course in 2021 and entered the UK before 27 September 2021 and complete that course of study in the UK with permission as a Student.

GR 6.3. Any period of distance learning between 24 January 2020 and 27 September 2021 as part of a course of study lasting longer than 12 months whilst the applicant held permission as a Student, will not prevent the applicant from meeting the requirement to spend the relevant period at GR 6.1. studying in the UK.

The guidance contains various case studies on how these exceptions work.

Study abroad

Participation in a study abroad programme will not prevent an applicant from meeting the study in the UK requirement either.

Duration and conditions

Successful applicants get an e-visa only, unless they are a citizen of a country listed in paragraph VN 1.1(a) of the Rules, in which case they will also be issued with a biometric residence permit.

Paragraph 8.1 sets out the length of permission to stay that Graduates can get:

Type of Qualification Period granted from date of decision
PhD or other doctoral qualification 3 years
All other qualifications 2 years

Graduates are allowed to work, except as a professional sportsperson (which includes coaching), but have no recourse to public funds.

Some extra study is permitted but not at a level that would require a Student visa.

Dependants

Graduate visa holders can sponsor dependent partners or children.

Partners

The requirements are in Paragraph GR 11.1:

GR 11.1. The relationship between the applicant and their partner must be genuine and subsisting.

GR 11.2. The applicant and their partner must intend to live together throughout the applicant’s stay in the UK.

GR 11.3. The applicant must not intend to stay in the UK beyond any permission granted to their partner.

The guidance says that unmarried couples trying to establish a “genuine and subsisting relationship” should provide evidence of cohabitation for two years cohabitation (this is legally questionable!).

Children

The requirements are paragraphs GR 12 to 14. Note in particular GR 12.2:

Each of the applicant’s parents must either be applying at the same time as the applicant, or have permission to be in the UK (other than as a visitor) unless:

(a) the parent with permission as a Student or Graduate or as the partner of a Student or Graduate is the sole surviving parent; or

(b) the parent with permission as a Student or Graduate or as the partner of a Student or Graduate has sole responsibility for the child’s upbringing; or

(c) the decision maker is satisfied that there are serious and compelling reasons to grant the child permission to stay with the parent who is applying for permission as a Graduate or as partner of a Graduate.

If the child was born in the UK and not previously part of a dependant application, then the birth certificate should be provided.

For children under 18, there must be “suitable arrangements for the child’s care and accommodation”. Children over 18 can only qualify if they were already in the UK as a dependant. If the child is over 16 years old, they “must not be leading an independent life”.

Refusal

Refusal of a Graduate application does not attract a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, but applicants can ask for an administrative review if there is a case-working error.

At time of writing, there is limited data available on Graduate applications since the route launched on 1 July 2021. But of the 12,573 applications lodged between July and September inclusive, only 89 were refused.

Switching

Graduate visa holders can switch over to the likes of Skilled Worker, Global Talent or Innovator without having to leave the UK. They may then be eligible to settle in the UK in one of these routes, or on the basis of ten years’ continuous lawful residence.

Sanaz Saifolahi is a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers. She is well regarded for her thorough case preparation, effective advocacy and personable nature. Sanaz is also an assessor for the Law Society ‘Immigration Law Advanced’ Accreditation Scheme.