November 5, 2019

The new graduate immigration route for students

New rules and policy again!

The Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa category (PSW) was axed on 5 April 2012. In order to attract the “best and the brightest” to the UK, a new Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa scheme was devised to replace the older PSW category. The PSW was a popular visa category allowing those holding UK degrees to work in the UK for two years without any formal job offer or potential employment. However, after seven years, on 11 September 2019 the government announced the creation of a new Graduate Immigration Route with a view to enabling international students to remain in the UK for two years after they have completed their studies. I once had a PSW which enabled me to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and then ultimately I was granted British citizenship. When I attempted to switch to Tier 2 (General) the application was refused because the extremely nasty Conservative party came to power on 6 May 2010 and entered into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Together they made changes to the system to reduce net migration to the hundreds of thousands. All this had meant that my Tier 2 (General) application was refused. But on appeal I won on article 8 of the ECHR outside the Immigration Rules. The Immigration Judge, a Sikh, initially resisted my submissions but then became attracted to my arguments and announced that he would allow my appeal.

To my surprise, afterwards in the corridor he congratulated me in Punjabi “well done, well done, Good Luck to you.” Ironically the Immigration Judge in question is infamous for dismissing human rights appeals. Boris Johnson has reportedly axed the Conservative’s net migration target and his spokesman confirmed that Johnson did not want to play “a numbers game”. Instead Johnson and his cabal wish to enter into a game built around the Australian style points-based system. Whatever the real intentions behind such changes, I can say that if the PSW and cat-style article 8 worked for me then there is every possibility that it will work for other people who possess the right credentials to win. The Graduate Immigration Route, the reinvented version of the PSW, will be available to international students who have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a UK Higher Education Provider with a track record of compliance and who have a valid Tier 4 visa at the time of application. Successful applicants will be able to stay and work, or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for a maximum period of two years. Graduates will be able to switch into skilled work once they have found a suitable job.

The statistics show that in the year ending June 2019, the number of sponsored student visa applications rose 9% to 236,679 and this included an 11% increase for the higher education sector to 201,919.

Unsurprisingly there were numerous clashes in Cameron’s Cabinet between Theresa May (the Home Secretary at that time) and George Osborne (the former Chancellor) since the latter wished to have an open immigration policy for skilled persons so as to service the UK’s migrant driven economy. Indeed, during her time as Prime Minister, Theresa May snubbed calls for relaxing the rules in 2016 because of her big obsession with reducing migration to the tens of thousands.

When does the route open?

The Graduate Immigration Route will be launched in the summer of 2021. The laugh date means that any eligible student who graduates in the summer of 2021 or after will be able to apply, including those students who have already started their courses and universities will also be able attract students starting in the 2020/21 academic year on the basis that they will benefit. The closure of the PSW resulted in the UK looking less student friendly and damaged its reputation.

The government thus claims that the relaunch of the route shows its support for UK’s education sector, and its ongoing commitment to the International Education Strategy aiming to increase education exports to £35 billion and the number of international students in higher education to 600,000 by 2030. The graduate immigration route will require a new application. It will include the payment of a visa fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge. The exact fee will be set out in due course. Those who graduate and whose Tier 4 leave expires before the route is introduced will not be eligible, however, most of these students will have had no expectation of benefitting from such a route when they applied to study in the UK.

Prospects of early implementation?

The Home Office takes its time over everything and devising a new immigration route is no different. This is so despite the fact that the PSW was a part of the rules for many years in the past.

The Home Office has explained that the route will be introduced in the summer of 2021. This will mean that all students who graduate in the summer of 2021 or after will benefit, regardless of when they started their course. The Graduate Immigration Route route aims to ensure that universities and stakeholders could promote the route when attracting prospective students. The Home Office claims that it will enable students to decide where to study, knowing they have the option of staying in the UK to work after completing their studies.

Who can benefit?

The Home Office has explained that any student who successfully completes their degree-level course at a qualifying institution in the summer of 2021 or after will be eligible. This includes students who are already studying in the UK.

Students whose Tier 4 leave expires before the route is introduced will not be eligible for it, however, most of these students will have had no expectation of benefitting from such a route when they applied to study in the UK. These students can still benefit from the generous provisions which allow them to switch in the skilled work route on favourable terms.

Is sponsorship necessary?

Eager foreign students will ask whether universities will be expected to act as sponsors for those students on the graduate immigration visa after they have graduated?

The answer is no and no sponsorship is necessary because the route is freestanding and students applying for the Graduate Immigration Route will not need a sponsor. Moreover, Tier 4 sponsors will not need to fulfil any sponsorship duties for their students if they switch onto the route. Students will not need a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to apply under this route. Tier 4 sponsors will continue to be responsible for their students while they are studying.

Is it possible to apply for settlement?

The new Graduate Immigration Route will be non-extendable. It will not count towards settlement but holders who can find an appropriate job and meet the requirements will be in a position to switch into skilled work, which is a route to settlement.

Equally, those who can extend their stay for 10 years will also be able to apply for ILR under the long residence rules for settlement. After nine years of very strict numbers on visas Priti Patel ironically introduced the new student work route by stating that: