UK Graduate route visa
International students can apply to work in the UK without a sponsored visa for up to 2-3 years via the Graduate route / Source: Daniel SORABJI / AFP

The UK is home to some of the best universities in the world. It’s no surprise, then, that it draws thousands of international students to its shores in pursuit of their higher education each year. In 2019-20 there were 538,615 international students studying in the UK; 142,985 of these were from the EU and 395,630 were non-EU, said government data.

Despite this, it was fairly difficult for international students to pursue work opportunities in the UK after completing their studies. Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May had previously reduced the work visa duration to only four months

This is beginning to change. The UK government introduced a new option for international students looking to continue working after their studies: the Graduate route. This gives students the freedom to stay in the UK to work or look for work without being sponsored by a company. Undergraduate and postgraduate students can work or look for work after their studies for a period of two years, while doctoral students will be granted three years. 

This means that students don’t need a pre-existing job offer to apply, giving them the flexibility to work and switch jobs according to any level of salary or skill, or choose to be self-employed. Students are also allowed to take part-time study, English language courses, or evening classes — or any route of study that in theory does not require sponsorship under the Student route. 

Here’s everything you need to know about applying for a Graduate route visa after your studies in 2022:

UK Graduate route visa

Graduates can pursue any line of work in the UK, regardless of skill or salary. Source: Leon Neal/AFP

How can I qualify for the UK Graduate route visa?

To qualify for a UK Graduate route visa, you will need to have a valid Tier 4 visa at the time of your application. You’ll need to show that you’ve completed the entirety of your course in the UK as a student, apart from permitted study abroad programmes or remote study due to COVID-19, for which specific concessions have been agreed.

You’ll also need to show your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number, which would have been issued by your university along with your Student or Tier 4 visa. The qualification named on your CAS should be the same one you have recently completed and would be applying for the Graduate route under. If you’ve lost or do not know your CAS number, contact your university. 

As with your initial Student or Tier 4 visa application, you’ll need to pay a processing fee of 700 pounds. You’ll also have to pay the full amount for the Immigration Health Surcharge, which will cost you £624 per year. It’s a hefty cost, but will give you full access to the UK’s National Health Service, the same as any UK permanent resident. 

If you have any dependants, they’ll need to pay the processing fee and Immigration Health Surcharge, too. You’re not allowed to bring on new dependants — only those who have already come to the UK under your current Student or Tier 4 visa. 

UK Graduate route visa

Students with a valid Tier 4 or Student visa will be eligible to apply for the Graduate route. Source: Tolga Akmen/AFP

Can I qualify for the visa even if I’ve been studying remotely due to the pandemic?

You might be able to do so. International students currently studying remotely or a combination of hybrid learning due to the pandemic can still apply UK Graduate visa route if you meet its other requirements under the UK’s COVID-19 student visa concessions.

When can I apply for the UK Graduate route visa?

You can only apply for the UK Graduate route visa once your university has confirmed the successful completion of your studies. According to the UK government, you don’t need to wait until you’ve graduated — you can submit an application as soon as your final course results have been sent to you. 

It’s important that you’re in the UK when you submit your application, as your Graduate visa will be rejected if you apply from outside the country, and you may lose eligibility to apply for the route altogether. Make sure that you stay in the UK while you’re waiting for a decision on your application too, because this may affect your eligibility for the route and subsequent re-entry into the country. 

Don’t worry about the expiration date for your current Student or Tier 4 visa. If it expires after you’ve applied for the Graduate route, you’ll still be allowed to stay in the UK until a decision has been made. Typically, you’ll receive a firm decision within eight weeks of applying. 

You can continue to work in the UK under the normal stipulations of your Student or Tier 4 visa in the meantime. 

uk graduate route visa

It’s important that you remain in the UK while your application is being processed. Source: Tolga Akmen/AFP

How do I apply for the UK Graduate route visa?

There are two ways to apply for the UK Graduate route visa: online or in person. 

The online application process requires you to visit the GOV.UK website, where you’ll find instructions on how to create a UK Visas and Immigration account and use a mobile app to verify your identity. You’ll need your current visa permit (e.g., a Biometric Residence Card) on hand for this, which you would have received when you entered the UK for your studies. If your application is successful, you’ll be issued with an eVisa or new Biometric Residence Card, depending on your country of origin.

If you can’t apply digitally, you can visit a UK Visas and Citizenship Application Services centre (UKVCAS). You can search for your nearest UKVCAS centre here

For more information, have a look at this UK Graduate route guide or contact your university.