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Understanding UK Graduate options and visas

Post by Mark Blaber (Northampton University)

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Welcome to this first in a series of quarterly blogs that will provide you with a brief outline of the routes into (and help and support with) working in the UK as a graduate.

If you’d like to stay and work in the UK after you graduate, there are a number of visa options open to you. This article details the most common visa options available for international students.

The Graduate Route

Picture of 3 graduates with London skyline in the background

The new Graduate route was launched in the UK on 1st July 2021 and the visa lasts for two years for (most) graduates and three years for Doctoral students.

The route is unsponsored and therefore you do not need a job offer to apply for the scheme.

The route is open to those that have completed their undergraduate degree or above and have a valid Tier 4 or student visa at the time of application. The visa will allow you to:

  • Work and secure employment in most roles in the UK
  • Apply for roles regardless of skill level or salary
  • Work on a self-employed basis or undertake voluntary work
  • Return to the UK if you travel abroad
  • Switch jobs and work flexibly whilst developing your career in the UK

Please note – the graduate route will not allow you to apply for most UK benefits or a state pension, or to work as a professional sportsperson.

You will need to check whether the employer will consider a Graduate Scheme option under this visa. Employers may wish to know that you have a visa in place to allow you to stay within the business after the scheme period.

Click here for full details of the Graduate Route including fees, how to apply, and processing times for applications.

Longer term options

The Skilled Worker Route

Skilled Worker Route – In December 2020 this replaced the Tier 2 visa. This route provides you with options for finding and applying for graduate schemes and other graduate level work. The main features are:

  • There is no resident labour market test
  • The employer must sponsor the employee. See the Register of Licensed Sponsors: Workers
  • The level of pay must be above £20,480
  • The job must require a particular skill set (although most graduate schemes will meet this)

If you are uncertain as to which employers in your area of work are sponsors (or if you have to apply through recruitment agencies) then please discuss your circumstances with your University’s careers advisers or with your professional body.

When looking at employers, here are some tips:

  • Be proactive, speak with the employers HR Department or Graduate Recruitment Team
  • Look at the big firms, they may have bigger budgets
  • Get your application in early
  • Tailor your application and make sure you stand out
  • Network, make the most of opportunities to make contacts and ask questions

Starting or running your own business

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The Start-up route is aimed at people, including those with Tier 4, Student and Graduate route permission, who wish to establish a business in the UK, and who have a business plan endorsed by a Home Office-approved endorsing body. It replaced the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur route. 

The Start-up route has a broader remit than the old Graduate Entrepreneur scheme. The Home Office website has a guide to applying for the Start-up route .

The Innovator Route replaced the old Tier 1 Entrepreneur route and is aimed at experienced businesspeople seeking to establish an innovative business in the UK

Innovator visas last for three years and start-up visas last for two years. A start-up visa can be switched to an innovator visa once the applicant’s business is active and has been endorsed by an authorised body.

Global Talent Visa

The Global Talent Visa is intended for ‘leaders or potential leaders’ in academia or research, arts and culture, and digital technology, as long as they are at least 18 years old.

Applications for global talent visas must first have applied for an endorsement to prove you are a leader or potential leader in your field. See the Global Talent webpages for more information. The Home Office and a relevant institution will review this endorsement application. Relevant institutions will have expertise in your field, such as the Royal Society for academic applicants or Tech Nation for digital technology applicants.

Other sources of information