The new route will replace the Doctorate Extension Scheme which allowed PhD students to extend their visa by a yearDavid McKelvey/flickr

The government announced yesterday (04/03) the creation of a new Graduate route for international students wanting to work after the completion of a UK bachelor’s degree or above. The route, which will open for applications on 1 July 2021, will allow the UK “to retain the brightest and the best international students to continue to contribute to society and the economy post-study.”

To qualify, international students must have completed an eligible higher education course in the UK and have a track record of compliance with the government’s immigration requirements. Students on the route will then be able to work or look for work for a period of two years, or three years for doctoral students.

Graduates will not need a job offer to qualify for the route and there will be no minimum salary requirements nor caps on numbers.

Plans for the scheme were announced as early as 2019 “to ensure that universities and stakeholders could promote the route when attracting prospective students.” The scheme will also replace the Doctorate Extension Scheme which allows PhD graduates to extend their visa for one year in order to gain work experience, have more time to find long-term employment, switch their work visa or set up as an entrepreneur.

There have also been adjustments in concession to students who have been unable to travel to the UK because of pandemic-related restrictions. Applicants who began their studies in autumn 2020 will now have until 21 June 2021 to enter the UK. This deadline was extended from 6 April 2021. Students who began studying in January or February 2021 will need to be in the UK by 27 September 2021.

The new route is meant to help the government achieve its targets set out in the International Education Strategy of increasing the number of international students in UK higher education to 600,000 per year by 2030.


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Kevin Foster, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, said of the scheme: “The changes announced today will ensure once they have received a gold standard qualification from one of our world leading education institutions they can easily secure the status they need to continue living, working and fulfilling their dreams in the UK.”

The Graduate route also comes amid government plans, announced yesterday (03/02) to launch a new immigration route to help start-ups and fast-growing firms to recruit the talent they need as part of a range of measures for highly skilled migrants.

The route also comes in the context of a reported 40% drop in EU applications to the UK for the January application cycle and the UK’s decision to leave the Erasmus Programme. There is also continued uncertainty about international students returning to the UK universities as aviation minister, Robert Courts, announced that international travel will not restart until after 17 May.