How to stay in the UK after studying – the graduate visa

A common question asked of many Immigration Lawyers is how to stay in the UK after studying. This is unsurprising given that many overseas students spend several years living in the UK, forming relationships and adapting to life in the UK. As the end of their time in the UK under their student visa approaches, a significant number will explore the options for staying. As UK universities call on the UK government to re-introduce a graduate visa, it’s worth noting that top Immigration Solicitors in London continue to handle a steady stream of applications from those who have recently completed their studies at UK universities and who wish to stay in the UK. 

How to stay in the UK after studying – the current position

Staying in the UK after graduation is not always straightforward, although an experienced immigration solicitor in London will be able to advise on the most appropriate visa route. Popular ways that a graduate may be able to remain in the UK currently are under the Tier 2 visa route, or, if he or she is able to set up a new business, as a graduate entrepreneur.

Tier 2 visa route for graduates

This route is open to graduates who have a job offer from an organisation already on the register of Tier 2 sponsors. The role must be a skilled, graduate level role and the starting salary must be a minimum of £20,800, or industry equivalent. The visa is linked to the role and the employer. You must have received the job offer within 4 months of graduation.

As the best Immigration Solicitors will advise, it is possible to switch from a Tier 4 student visa to a Tier 2 visa within the UK – but not from outside the UK. There are a number of advantages to switching within the UK. Tier 2 visas granted in these circumstances are not subject to the employer carrying out the Resident Labour Market test and isn’t included in the annual limit so prior approval from UK Visas and immigration isn’t required. The employer is also exempt from the immigration Skills Charge.

Applying under Tier 2 from outside the UK

It is possible to apply to work in the UK under the Tier 2 route at a later stage, from outside the UK, but there are more conditions attached and you may find that it takes longer to receive the visa. Unless your skills are particularly sought after in the UK, you may also find that you are not granted a visa – in recent months, the ‘cap’ that is placed on Tier 2 visas that don’t come within the Shortage Occupation List has regularly been exceeded, meaning many have been unable to take up the roles they have been offered. It is possible to obtain a Tier 2 visa if you are offered an exceptionally high salary (£159,600 or more) or if the role is a supernumerary research position. In this case you usually need to be named in the grant or Fellowship.

Graduate entrepreneur visa

The Graduate entrepreneur route under Tier 1 is also a possibility for graduates with a genuine and credible business idea. Graduates from outside the EEA and Switzerland can apply for the Graduate entrepreneur visa providing they have been endorsed either by the Department of International Trade, or by a Higher Education Institution in the UK. You can switch to the Graduate entrepreneur visa within the UK from a Tier 4 student visa or apply from outside the UK.

The proposed new graduate visa

Universities UK, the umbrella organisation for the sector has noted that while the UK remains a popular destination for international students, other countries – the US, Australia and Germany in particular were growing faster in terms of their international student community. One key step to boost the UK as the destination of choice for international students would be the reintroduction of the ‘post-study’ graduate visa which would allow international students to remain in the UK for up to 2 years, sponsored by the university rather than an employer. The US and Canada allow international students to stay on for 3 years after graduation. In Australia, 4 years. Universities UK argues that not only would the option to remain and work serve as a powerful incentive for international students, post the Brexit Referendum, it also sends a clear message that the UK is keen to welcome global talent.

The post-study graduate visa route was closed down by Theresa May in her role as Home Secretary as part of her crackdown on immigration. However, her claims about student overstayers were discredited and the latest statistics show that 97% of all international students complied with the terms of their student visa.

While the proposed new visa is not a route to settlement in the UK it would certainly make the UK a more attractive destination for international students. Given the hurdles that both the Tier 2 route and the graduate entrepreneur visa route can present, many experienced UK Immigration Lawyers would welcome a more straightforward route for graduates.

OTS Solicitors have many years’ experience handling all aspects of visa applications for students, graduates and for those in business, as well as their families and dependants. For expert, practical advice and support, get in touch with us by calling 0203 959 9123.



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