The UK government’s new post-study Graduate Route visa for overseas students is now open and is expected to boost Indian student numbers to the country.
The lack of post-study work experience options has long been cited as a major contributory factor behind a sharp drop in the number of Indian students choosing UK universities as their higher education destination of choice over the years. Now, even as that trend reverses, the UK government has plugged the post-study gap with the launch of its new Graduate Route visa.
The UK Home Office formally opened the new post-study offer this week for international students to apply for the right to stay on for work experience at the end of their university courses.
Announced last year by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel part of her post-Brexit points based immigration system (PBS) strategy, the Graduate Route is expected to particularly benefit Indian students, who are known to choose their degree courses based on the prospect of work experience. The new route is designed for international graduates who have been awarded their degree from a recognised UK university to stay on and look for work for at least two years.
Read more on UK’s stance on international students:
At the recent India Global Forum, Patel highlighted how last year more than 56,000 Indian nationals were granted a student visa, already a 13 per cent increase on the previous year, with those figures set to jump further with the new route.
“The United Kingdom is a destination of choice for thousands of students from across the world, and India obviously has an incredibly special place when it comes to that student relationship with the UK,” the minister said.
“As we build back better, it is vital that the UK continues to be a beacon for talented young people across the globe who want to make a difference. The new Graduate route does just that, giving the best and brightest graduates the opportunity to continue contributing to the UK’s prosperity and the freedom to kickstart their careers in the UK,” she said.
For the new route, international graduates must have completed an eligible course at a UK higher education provider with a track record of compliance with the government’s immigration requirements. It is unsponsored, meaning applicants do not need a job offer to apply and crucially they can use a two-year period to stay on and look for a job. There are no minimum salary requirements or caps on numbers, allowing graduates on the route to work flexibly, switch jobs and develop their career as required.
Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi) which represents more than 140 UK higher education institutions, said: “The Graduate route is a real opportunity for international students to make the most of their UK degree and gain valued experience working in a UK based organisation, making them more employable in the future.
“Along with the flexibility the UK offers around how students wish to begin their UK experience, these are really welcoming policies, developed to make the UK as attractive as possible to international students. We want you to choose the UK.”
A coronavirus concession on the date by which students must enter the UK to qualify for the route, if they started courses in 2020 and are unable to travel due to the pandemic, was recently extended. Applicants who began their studies in autumn 2020 or in spring 2021 will need to be in the UK on a student visa by September 27 this year. Students beginning their course later this year or early next year will need to be in the UK by April 6, 2022.
This has been welcomed by Indian student groups in the UK, concerned about India’s categorisation under the red list of countries from where travel currently remains banned, making it compulsory for Indian students to quarantine at considerably additional expense.
UK Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “International students are a vital part of our society, and those who graduate from our world-leading universities should have the opportunity to stay and build meaningful careers here, in the UK.
“That is why we are introducing this new route for international graduates, enabling British businesses to attract and retain some of the brightest, most talented graduates across the globe, and helping this nation build back better from the pandemic.”
The new route is pegged as part of the UK’s Global Britain message of attracting the brightest and best talent from around the world and covers all parts of the United Kingdom.
Anne Marie Graham, Chief Executive of UK Council for International Student Affairs, noted: "We know that employability is a priority for international students coming to study in the UK.
“International students who are able to access this route will have the flexibility to apply for work in any sector or role that fits their skills profile, including self-employment, without the need for employer sponsorship.”
To apply under the new Graduate route, international students must have completed an eligible course at a recognised UK higher education provider at undergraduate or higher level. Students on the route will be able to work or look for work after their studies for a maximum period of two years, or three years for Doctoral PhD students.
Students will be able to make use of their university careers service to advise on how to apply for graduate jobs, and also the kind of skills employers will be looking for.