Graduate Visa: Guide for Students


graduate route

The UK’s new Graduate Route is set to open later this year. It will be available to international students who have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a Higher Education Institution in the UK from the summer of 2021 or after.

What is the Graduate Route?

The Graduate Route is a new UK post-study work visa to be introduced for international students graduating in summer 2021 or later. It will allow you to live and work in the UK for up to two years after a Masters, or three years after a PhD.

Successful applicants on this route will be able to stay and work (in any sector or at any level), or look for work, in the UK for a maximum period of two years. The visa is not extendable but graduates will be able to switch into skilled work once they have found a suitable job.

There will be no cap on the number of people who can benefit from the Graduate Route.

Despite the ongoing pandemic crisis, the Government has confirmed that the Graduate Route will be introduced as planned and students who have been unable to complete all of their degree on campus in the UK will still be eligible.

Students who have current Tier 4 leave when the new route is introduced are also expected to be able to benefit. Students whose Tier 4 visa expires before the route is introduced will not be eligible for the post-study work visa.

The route will require an in-country application, and both an application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge will be payable. Applicants will also be subject to identity, criminality and security checks, and must have a track record of immigration compliance during their stay.


Who will be eligible for a Graduate Route visa?

Students completing undergraduate or postgraduate degree-level courses and graduating in the summer of 2021 or later will be eligible.

It will also be open to those with a Tier 4 visa when the system is introduced in 2021.


Will my university need to sponsor my application?

No. You will not need any sponsorship to apply for the Graduate Route.


Will there be any restriction on the work I will be able to do with a Graduate Route Visa?

There will be no minimum salary level for the Graduate Route. You can seek advanced roles related to your degree, or develop your CV and experience in other positions.


What will happen if I don’t find a job after my degree?

You don’t need to be in work to qualify for the Graduate Route and periods of unemployment won’t have any impact on the length of your post-study work visa.


What will happen when my Graduate Route Visa expires?

At the end of the two-year period you will need to leave the UK or apply for a different visa, such as a Tier 2 General work visa.

The Tier 2 visa does require you to have an employment offer with a minimum skill and salary level, but your time on the Graduate Route should make it much easier to work towards this.

You won’t be able to apply for a second Graduate Route visa if you aren’t eligible for a skilled worker visa.


Will I need to apply again if I already have a Tier 4 visa?

Yes. You will need to apply for a separate Graduate Route visa before your Tier 4 visa expires.


Will there be a fee for the Graduate Route visa?

Yes. You will need to pay a separate visa fee to access the Graduate Route. You will also need to pay another Immigration Health Surcharge to cover each additional year you spend in the UK.


What will the application deadline be?

You will need to apply to the Graduate Route before your Tier 4 student visa expires. This is currently four months after the end of your course (six months for Masters students under the Tier 4 visa Pilot).

However, it isn’t clear whether the new two-year duration of the Graduate Route will be in addition to the post-study period allowed by the Tier 4 visa. It is possible that you may need to apply to the Graduate Route before your course finishes (and not be able to combine the two periods of post-study work allowance).

We’ll provide updates when more information is released.


Will the Graduate Route replace the Tier 4 visa pilot for Masters students?

Currently, the Tier 4 pilot is available at 27 institutions and allows students to stay for six months (rather than four months) after their Masters. The Tier 4 pilot also makes it easier to apply for a student visa by reducing the amount of information students must provide.

The Graduate Route will replace the post-study work entitlement of the pilot (by extending this period to two years for all students). But the simplified Tier 4 application process could remain at some universities.


Will the Graduate Route replace the doctorate extension scheme for students?

Yes, the Graduate Route will replace the Doctorate Extension Scheme for PhD students who graduate from summer 2021. This is good news for PhD visas as the new option provides a much more generous post-study work period (three years rather than one) and a simpler application process.


What will this mean for EU students?

The Graduate Route will be available to students on Tier 4 visas. EU and EEA students do not currently need a visa to study in the UK, but this may change as a result of Brexit. If so, the Graduate Route would be available to EU and EEA students as well as other international students.


Is the Graduate Route affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?

The Graduate Route remains on course to be introduced from summer 2021. You may still be eligible if you are forced to complete part of your degree via distance learning, provided you arrive in the UK before 6 April 2021 to complete a semester of study through face-to-face learning at your university.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.