Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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International students can apply for UK Graduate Route beginning 1 July 2021

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Students with bachelor’s degrees or higher obtained from UK higher education institutions can apply for post-study work rights of up to two years (three for doctoral students) beginning 1 July
  • Students who have been unable to return to the UK because of COVID have more flexibility regarding when they have to be back in the country to be eligible for the Graduate Route
  • Students do not need a job offer to be eligible

The UK government has confirmed that international students will be able to apply for a post-study work visa via the Graduate Route beginning 1 July 2021. This means that all international students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher from a recognised UK university will soon be eligible to stay on in the country to work for up to two years. Doctoral students will be able to remain in the UK for up to three years.

The planned opening of the Graduate Route was first announced in September 2019 and has already sparked substantial demand from non-EU/EEA students. In 2019/2020 non-EU enrolments exceeded 400,000 for the first time to reach 408,825, representing year-over-year growth of nearly 17%.

The Graduate Route is an important part of the UK’s broader international education strategy and its goal to host 600,000 international students by 2030.

No employer sponsorship required

Applicants for the Graduate Route do not need to have a job offer to be eligible for the Graduate Route. The government notes that,

“The Graduate route will be unsponsored, meaning applicants will not need a job offer to apply for the route. There will be no minimum salary requirements nor caps on numbers. Graduates on the route will be able to work flexibly, switch jobs and develop their career as required.”

Flexibility for students affected by COVID

Recognising that many international students enrolled in UK higher education institutions have been unable to travel to the UK during COVID, the government has also extended the window of time that these students have to enter the UK to be eligible for the Graduate Route:

  • “Applicants who began their studies in Autumn 2020 now have until 21 June 2021 to enter the UK (updated from 6 April 2021) in order to be eligible for the Graduate route
  • Students who began their studies in January or February 2021 will need to be in the UK by 27 September 2021.”

Attracting talented students a top priority

Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster said:

“As we rebuild from the global pandemic, we want the world’s brightest talent, who aspire to a career at the highest levels of business, science, the arts and technology to see our United Kingdom as the natural place to fulfil their aspirations.

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.”

Comparing post-study work options

  • The new post-study work rights permission coming soon in the UK is comparable to:
  • Ireland, where the post-study work allowance is up to two years;
  • Australia, where higher education graduates can stay between two and four years after their studies;
  • Canada, where international students can remain in the country to work for up to three years;
  • New Zealand, where the post-study work right period ranges from one–three years;
  • The US, under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme that allows international students to work for one year in a job related to their field of study or up to three years for STEM graduates.

For additional background, please see:


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