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Home Secretary Suella Braverman mulling over reforming the Graduate visa route

By Amer Zaman

on March 9, 2023

Read Time: 8 Minutes

In late January, reports filtered through in the UK press, indicating that Home Secretary Suella Braverman was looking at reducing the permitted period of stay for overseas students on the UK Graduate visa.

It is a proposal that the reports suggested put her on a “collision course” with the UK Department for Education (DfE).

But what do prospective or current students or graduates in the UK need to know about these reported plans, and what is the present state of play in relation to the Graduate visa?

Who is eligible for a UK Graduate visa?

The Graduate visa is the visa category that enables those who have successfully completed a course in the UK to remain in the country for at least two years. If you have a PhD or another doctoral qualification, you can stay in the UK for as long as three years on the Graduate visa.

You will be eligible to apply for a Graduate visa for the UK if all the below statements are true:

  • You are in the UK
  • You currently hold a Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa
  • As a holder of the Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa, you spent the minimum required period of time studying for a UK bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree, or another eligible course
  • Your education provider (such as your college or university) has informed the Home Office that you have successfully completed your course of study

If you are unsure whether the last statement is true, we would advise you to check this with your education provider, before preparing and submitting an application for the Graduate visa. Do you have any questions about the process of applying for a Graduate visa for the UK? If so, you are welcome to call Cranbrook Legal’s experts in UK immigration law on 0208 215 0053, and can also arrange a free consultation with us.  

What is the Home Secretary’s plan for the Graduate visa?

It might seem a surprise to some observers that the aforementioned two years for which someone can stay in the UK on the Graduate visa is apparently in the Home Secretary’s crosshairs, given that this visa route was only launched as recently as July 2021.

Nonetheless, that would appear to be the case, at least if reports are to be believed. Specifically, it was popular newspaper The Times that reported Ms Braverman had drawn up a plan to “reform” this visa category. The Home Secretary apparently wants graduating students to be required to obtain a work visa by getting a skilled job, or leave the UK after six months.

The report cited a UK Government source that was supportive of Ms Braverman’s proposal as saying the Graduate visa was seeing increasing use among students on short courses at “less respectable universities”. The source was quoted as claiming that the visa was “being used as a backdoor immigration route”.

It should be noted that the above is based on apparently leaked information detailed in a UK newspaper report, and that the Home Office declined to comment directly on the leak.

Instead, a Government spokesperson gave a more generic statement, that “our points-based system is designed to be flexible according to the UK’s needs… we keep all our immigration policies under constant review to ensure they best serve the country and reflect the public’s priorities.”

However, the proposal said to have been put forward by Ms Braverman does not exactly seem out of character for the Home Secretary, who has complained in the past about students from overseas “bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa” and “propping up, frankly, substandard courses in inadequate institutions.”

Is a restriction in the allowed Graduate visa stay likely to happen?

This is a question of some debate; after all, The Times said that Ms Braverman was facing opposition to her proposal from within Government. The newspaper suggested that the DfE was trying to block such a change from happening, due to fears that it would make the UK a less attractive destination for students from around the world.

It would seem that an ideological battle is going on with regard to how the UK Government perceives international students. The education department, for its part, has reportedly argued that the two-year Graduate visa – also frequently referred to as the UK’s ‘post-study offer’ – is aligned with most of the UK’s competitors, with only the United States offering a shorter-duration post-study visa, valid for one year.

But on the other hand, Ms Braverman’s proposal to cut the two years for which someone can stay in the UK on a Graduate visa without a specific job offer, was reportedly inspired by a request from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer had apparently asked the Home Office and the DfE to set out proposals on how the numbers of foreign students arriving in the UK could be lowered.

One other idea that has supposedly been tabled, would involve overseas students only being permitted to be accompanied by dependent family members if they are on postgraduate research-based courses such as a PhD, or postgraduate courses lasting a minimum of two years.

So, even if the Home Secretary’s specific proposal isn’t ultimately picked up, it seems that students wishing to come to the UK and stay for some time after graduation could be subject to more stringent visa conditions in the years to come.

Can I stay in the UK after my Graduate visa expires?

An expiry date will be stated on your Graduate visa. You are required to leave the UK by this date, unless you have applied for another visa that, if approved, would enable you to remain for longer in the UK.

There is no option to extend a Graduate visa, although depending on your circumstances and eligibility, it might be possible for you to switch to another UK visa, such as the Skilled Worker visa.

If, the day after your Graduate visa expires, you haven’t submitted a valid application for further leave in the UK or obtained any other valid immigration permission in the country, you will be considered to be ‘overstaying’, which is a criminal offence.

In the event that you do end up overstaying, you would be required to declare this when applying for any UK visa in the future, as well as if you apply for a visa in many other countries. So, you should strive to avoid overstaying your immigration permission if at all possible.

Why does the UK want to reduce the numbers of foreign students it receives?

On one level, it may seem somewhat curious that the UK Government would wish to make the country seem less alluring a place for talented people from around the world to study and graduate.

However, the latest apparent moves towards a crackdown have to be viewed in the context of, as we previously reported, the UK’s net migration figure having reached its highest level since the end of World War II in the 12 months to June 2022.

That spike in net migration, to an estimated 504,000 during those 12 months, has been attributed to a number of exceptional factors coinciding over the last few years. Those factors include COVID-19-related travel restrictions having come to an end, and humanitarian schemes having been put in place for arrivals from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Hong Kong.

Nonetheless, as we referenced in our news piece on the subject, there have also been many more students arriving in the UK from overseas over the last few years. So, the matter of the UK’s relationship with its international student base cannot be ignored.

Indeed, the rise in student visas granted in the UK has ended up being much steeper than the Government had anticipated. This has meant that its 2030 target for international student numbers – as outlined in its International Education Strategy – was ultimately reached a decade early.

It should be borne in mind, too, that there has indeed been a significant jump in the number of student visas granted to dependants over the last few years, to the extent that they now account for 17% of all student visas, this proportion having once been below 5%.

One more point that ought to be made: while many people who come to the UK on student visas before later switching to the Graduate visa will undoubtedly be very talented and may well contribute to the UK’s economic success story, this will not necessarily be the case for all.

What should you do if you are interested in the Graduate visa?

Our advice for now, would be to not change your approach to any applications for the Student visa or Graduate visa, solely on the basis of what you might have read in the British media.

For now, the Graduate visa continues to offer an opening to stay in the UK for up to two years or longer if you are successful in being approved for this route by the Home Office. If you are a current holder of the Graduate visa and your expiry date is near, you should make decisions on whether to leave the UK or apply to switch to another visa, on the basis of the current requirements.

Here at Cranbrook Legal, we realise that making sense of UK immigration law can be overwhelming and confusing for many. For help with your potential move to the UK or advice in relation to how you might apply to remain in the UK as a present visa holder, please do not hesitate to call our specialists in UK immigration law today, on 0208 215 0053.

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