Graduate Visa: How to Stay in the UK

graduate visa


If you’re an international student in the UK and you want to stay in Britain after your studies, you may be eligible for the Graduate visa.

The Graduate visa is a post-study work visa designed to help foreign graduates find work in the UK on completion of their studies. This immigration route is also aimed at helping UK-based businesses to benefit from a rich pool of untapped global talent, where the UK welcomes hundreds of thousands of high-potential overseas students to universities and higher education institutions every year.


What is the UK’s Graduate visa?

The Graduate route provides an opportunity for international students who have studied in the UK to stay on and work at any skill level, or to look for work, for a period of 2 years, or 3 years for successful PHD or doctoral graduates.

As an unsponsored work route, eligible applicants do not need a job offer. This is in contrast to various other work visa routes, such as the Skilled Worker visa, where a migrant worker would first need the offer of a job meeting minimum skill and salary requirements, together with a valid certificate of sponsorship, from a UK-licensed sponsor.

As such, Graduate visa-holders will be able to work flexibly and work in any kind of job. It’s also possible to switch jobs, take on self-employed work and generally develop their careers in the UK.


Who is eligible for the Graduate visa?

The Graduate visa is open to foreign nationals who want to stay on in the UK after completing their course of study at undergraduate level or above with a Home Office approved higher education provider. In other words, to be eligible for a Graduate visa, an applicant must have graduated from a qualifying course of studies in the UK and still be in the UK under a valid Student visa when they apply.

The Graduate route is also available to international students who have completed one of a limited number of professional qualifications at degree level or above.


Graduate visa requirements?

In the absence of any sponsorship requirement, the Graduate route is one of the most flexible work routes that the UK has to offer to prospective overseas recruits. An applicant on the Graduate route will also not be required to meet any financial or English language requirement, as these requirements will already have been met under the Student route.

However, the following criteria must still be met to be eligible for this visa:

  • Successful completion requirement: the applicant must have been previously sponsored by a Student sponsor in the UK which is a higher education provider with a track record of compliance at the date of application. The applicant must have successfully completed the course which was undertaken during their last grant of leave and, by the time that they apply, their sponsor must have informed UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) that the applicant has successfully completed their course of study.
  • Qualification requirement: the applicant must have completed a course of study for which they have been, or will soon be, awarded a UK bachelor’s degree, a UK master’s degree, or a UK PhD or doctorate. They will also be eligible if they have completed an approved law conversion course; the Legal Practice Course for solicitors or the Bar Practice Course for barristers; a foundation programme in medicine or dentistry; a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in Education, or any other professional course that will qualify someone for a job regulated by either a UK law or public authority.
  • Study in the UK requirement: the applicant must have held permission as a Student and studied in the UK for a minimum period of time. If the course length was for 12 months or less, they must have studied for the full duration of that course in the UK, while for a course of more than 12 months, they must have studied in the UK on that course for at least 12 months. Studying a course in the UK means that the applicant was in the UK when their education provider needed them to be there, including to go to lectures or to meet with tutors. For example, if they were studying for a 1 year master’s degree, but left the UK every term break, this would still count as studying in the UK for 1 year.

There are also exceptions if an applicant was required to study outside the UK between certain dates due to restrictions relating to COVID-19. If the applicant’s Student visa was for more than 12 months, they can count any time spent studying outside the UK between 24 January 2020 and 30 June 2022 as time spent studying in the UK. If their Student visa was for 12 months or less, they can apply if either of the following are true:

  • they started their course before 21 June 2021 and they entered the UK on a Student visa on or before 27 September 2021
  • they started their course between 21 June 2021 and 30 June 2022 and they entered the UK on a Student visa on or before 30 June 2022.


How to apply for a Graduate visa

An application for a Graduate visa must be made online and the applicant must be in the UK with valid leave on the Student route to be able to apply. They must also not have been previously granted leave as a Graduate or under the Doctorate Extension Scheme.

As part of their application, the applicant will be invited to use the ‘UK Immigration ID Check’ app, if eligible to do so. This means that they will be able to verify their identity online using the biometrics submitted as part of their Student visa application. Otherwise, the applicant will need to schedule an appointment at UKVCAS to complete their application.

An application for a Graduate visa can be made once the applicant’s university or college has notified UKVI that the applicant has successfully completed their course. The applicant does not have to wait until they have graduated or received their certificate, although they will need to use the CAS number from their current Student visa to apply.


Supporting documents for the Graduate visa

When making an application for a Graduate visa, a number of documents will be needed. These include a valid passport or other travel document that shows the applicant’s identity and nationality, as well as their biometric residence permit (BRP), if they were given one when they applied for their Student visa and their Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) reference number. The CAS reference number will have been sent by the education provider when the applicant was offered a place on the course they completed with their Student visa. If they cannot find it, they should ask their education provider what this is.

Additionally, if the applicant has in the 12 months prior to their application been awarded a scholarship or sponsorship by either a Government or international scholarship agency covering both their fees and living costs for study in the UK, they must also provide written consent to their visa application from that Government or agency.


How much does it cost to apply for a Graduate visa?

The cost of applying for a Graduate visa is £822. Applicants also have to pay the annual immigration health surcharge (IHS) per year of stay. This will give them access to the UK’s National Health Service on generally the same basis as a UK permanent resident. The full IHS amount will need to be paid, together with the application fee, when applying.


How long do Graduate visa applications take?

An application for a Graduate visa can take up to 8 weeks to process, although if the applicant’s Student visa expires during this time, provided they applied prior to expiry of their existing visa, they can remain in the UK until they receive a decision. The processing times for applications vary depending on how the individual applied. If they proved their identity using the app, the processing time starts when their documents are uploaded. If they attended an UKVCAS service point, the processing time starts after this appointment.

Importantly, an applicant must not leave the UK or Common Travel Area (CTA) while they are waiting for a decision on their Graduate visa application. Doing so may affect their eligibility for the Graduate route and result in them being unable to re-enter the UK. The CTA is an open borders area comprising the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands.

If permission to stay on the Graduate route is granted, the applicant will be given digital immigration status, known as an eVisa. Visa nationals will also be given a new Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) for use when travelling in and out of the UK. In either case, the applicant can use the online right to rent and right to work services to prove their right to live and work in the UK once they have successfully secured housing and employment. If an applicant is given a BRP, they can also use that physical document to prove their UK rights.


Can dependants apply on the Graduate visa route?

It is possible for the partner and dependent children of the principal applicant on the Graduate route to apply to remain with their partner or parent in the UK, provided they meet the relevant requirements. These include a relationship requirement, as well as an additional age and care requirement for dependent children.

However, only dependants already living in the UK as a Student dependant may apply as a dependant of a Graduate at the same time the Graduate applies to the route, where new dependants cannot apply from overseas to join the Graduate visa-holder.

Any partner and any dependent children must apply separately and each pay an application fee of £715. Each dependant will also be liable to pay the annual IHS, although this will be reduced to £470 per year of stay for under 18s. A dependant visa will be granted in line with the length of stay granted for the Graduate visa-holder.


Can you extend a Graduate visa?

The Graduate visa will be granted for a period of either 2 or 3 years, depending on the level of degree qualification. This visa is non-extendable although, if a visa-holder finds suitable employment, they will be able to switch into various work routes from the Graduate route. This includes the Skilled Worker route which provides a path to settlement in the UK, where a Skilled Worker visa-holder can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) having lived in the UK for 5 years on this route, although any time spent on the Graduate route does not count towards settlement. Still, provided a Graduate visa-holder secures a suitably skilled and well-paid job, they can think about making the UK their permanent home.

Having lived and worked in the UK on the Skilled Worker route for a period of 5 years, and provided the visa-holder meets the additional requirements for settlement at this stage, including passing a Life in the UK test, they will then be eligible to apply for ILR.




Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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.

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