Graduate route - what's happening?

24 January 2020

The Graduate route, if brought into force in line with information currently available, would provide two years of leave following Tier 4 study. It would permit employment and self-employment and facilitate the move into other work routes that potentially lead to settlement.

It was first announced on 11 September 2019 and followed up with a Home Office factsheet on 14 October 2019. There has been no further information since the General Election which took place in December 2019. However, Home Office policy staff are still developing the scheme and have said that they might be able to publish more details around May or June this year.

It is good news that talk of the Graduate route has not disappeared since a new UK Government came into power. However, if you are making a decision now about your study in the UK, you need to be aware that we will not have reliable information about the Graduate route, including its existence, until the Immigration Rules are published. The Home Office has said that this will not happen before April 2021, and possibly later, because its current focus is on designing and implementing a whole new immigration system to come into force by January 2021.

The information below sets out what we have heard so far, which is all subject to change. We have highlighted where we have concerns and where we will be pushing for greater flexibility or a less restrictive approach. 

Which students might be able to apply?

  • Students with Tier 4 (General) student leave - it is unlikely that anyone else will be covered
  • Students whose leave has not expired when the scheme is introduced - this is because you will have to apply for the Graduate route in the UK and there will be no provision for applications outside the UK
  • Students who have successfully completed (passed) their course - Home Office information refers to students 'graduating' in summer 2021 but in practice this means students who have been notified that they have passed their course. The education sector has asked the Home Office to use more accurate terminology in future. It is likely that Tier 4 sponsors will be required to notify the Home Office of successful completion, although you will not be sponsored under this route
  • Students who have successfully completed a recognised UK degree - although the Home Office information talks about 'degree-level' qualifications, its current thinking appears to have changed to degrees only. This means that certificates, diplomas and other non-degree qualifications at RQF 6 or SCQF 9 and above may not qualify, even though many of them are vocational qualifications, including teaching and law. We do not know the reason for this, although the Home Office and some higher education providers were concerned about students who enrolled on a degree course but left early with a certificate or diploma in order to start work under the Tier 1 (Post-study Work) scheme which was closed in 2012
  • Tier 4 (General) students who successfully complete the course on the CAS they used to obtain the Tier 4 leave they currently hold - the Home Office has suggested that students who change course, even if their study condition permits this, may not qualify for this route. This is particularly likely to affect research students. We do not know the reason for this, although it might be because is easier to draft legislation to cover applicants who have not changed course. We think this sounds unreasonable as it would exclude students who have complied with their study condition, which is already very restrictive. Our argument is that no one should be penalised for changing to a course which better suits their study and career aspirations, and no students should feel obliged to continue studying a course which does not suit them because of fear of missing out on the Graduate route 
  • The Home Office has stated in meetings that it does not intend to extend this route to students who spend only a short period of time in the UK, for example, a semester as a distance learner or possibly students who spend a top-up year or less in the UK. We have asked whether Tier 4 part-time postgraduates will be able to apply under the Graduate route, but have not yet received confirmation either way
  • In the future, anyone who has already been granted Graduate route leave will not be able to apply for it again

What kind of work might be permitted?

  • Most types of employment and self-employment, like its predecessor route, Tier 1 (Post-study Work). However, we expect a prohibition on work as a professional sportsperson and as a doctor or dentist in training, though some immigration categories allow the latter if the applicant has studied medicine or dentistry in the UK. Work as an entertainer should be permitted, as it is under most other work routes, and we will argue for this if it looks as if it will not be allowed
  • The Home Office has stated that full-time and part-time work at any level will be allowed. However, it has also implied that the route could be closed if evidence suggests that it is used to obtain jobs it regards as 'low skilled', which is what happened with Tier 1 (Post-study Work). It is, therefore, important that, if you are granted Graduate route leave and find work, you inform the careers or alumni team at your university so that it can gather its own evidence about how the scheme is operating. For an idea of the type of jobs the Home Office thinks of as 'skilled', see Appendix J of the Immigration Rules, which sets out job titles, descriptions and wages required for sponsorship under Tier 2 (which is a 'skilled job' route). The Graduate route has the advantage of not requiring sponsorship or a minimum wage.

Will there be a maintenance requirement?

  • The Home Office has not yet given any indication of this, and there is the possibility that there will be no maintenance requirement. However, most other immigration categories have such a requirement, so you should not assume there will be none.
  • If you were wholly sponsored (all your tuition fees and maintenance) for your studies by a government or an international scholarship agency, you will need your financial sponsor's consent to stay in the UK under this new route, as with other work categories.
  • You will need to pay an immigration application fee, which has not yet been set, and the immigration health surcharge for a period of two years. We do not yet know whether the immigration health surcharge will be set at the general rate of £400 a year or the £300 rate currently payable by students and Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) applicants.

What about my partner and/or children?

  • The Home Office has not yet provided information about this, but has suggested that eligibility will be restricted to dependants who are already in the UK with the Tier 4 student who wishes to apply under the Graduate route. This would mean that only government-sponsored students and postgraduate students sponsored by a higher education provider with a track record of compliance on courses at least nine months long would be able to have dependants under the Graduate route. In addition, those dependants would already need to be in the UK as Tier 4 dependants. Children aged 18 or older would be able to remain if they have dependant leave.
  • The Home Office proposal would exclude many students: most undergraduates, postgraduates and government-sponsored students whose dependants were not with them during study, perhaps because of children's schooling and partners' work, and anyone who forms a relationship or has children after they have been granted Graduate route leave. It would also possibly exclude family members who are in the UK but not with dependant leave, for example, partners with Tier 4 (General) leave and children with Tier 4 (Child) leave.
  • We are strongly opposed to such a restriction. It is not applied to other post-study work routes, fails to take into account the realities of life and risks the loss of international graduates' talent from the UK's labour market.

For detailed information about bringing your family to the UK under Tier 4, see Dependants.

What might happen to existing immigration routes?

  • The Home Office plans to close the doctorate extension scheme (DES) when the Graduate route comes into force. The exact timing is not yet known. For example, we do not know if a person who holds a CAS for applying under DES when the Graduate route opens will still be able to apply for DES leave. Students who have changed course do not have a problem if they apply under DES. However, they would be retrospectively disadvantaged if the Graduate route is subject to this restriction. If we are unable to persuade the Home Office not to introduce such a restriction, we will argue that DES should not be closed as soon as the Graduate route is opened.
  • It is possible that the Tier 4 pilot scheme for qualifying postgraduates at specified institutions, which reduces evidential requirements and provides a six-month period of leave after the end of a course, will also be brought to an end. This could happen before the Graduate route comes into force in 'summer' 2021 as students starting courses in September 2020 or later would be able to apply under the Graduate route and would, in theory, no longer require longer leave after their course. However, some Tier 4 pilot institutions may argue against this.
  • The Start-up route will continue. However, it is unlikely that holders of Graduate route leave will be able to apply in the UK to 'switch' into the Start-up route. Under the current wording of the Immigration Rules, entry clearance applications would be possible as long as you had not set up a business during your time in the UK with Graduate route leave.
  • The intention is to allow holders of Graduate route leave to apply in the UK for 'skilled' work routes, including Innovator and whatever replaces Tier 2 from January 2021. We will need to check that applications under Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) and Global Talent will also be possible.