Graduate Route

Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules: the Points-Based system in action by Charlotte Rubin

Last week, the Johnson government published an important Statement of Changes to the immigration rules which amongst other things officially introduces the Graduate route for students and the Global Talent visa into law. Here, we take a look at the main changes, most of which relate to so-called points-based system visas.

The new Graduate route will open for applications on 1 July 2021, allowing international students to stay in the UK for two to three years after completing their studies. In sum, to be eligible for the Graduate route, international students must have completed an eligible course at a UK higher education provider with a track record of compliance with the government’s immigration requirements. Eligible courses are degree-level courses at undergraduate level or above – certain professional qualifications like the Law Practice Course (LPC) also qualify. Bachelor’s and master’s students on the Graduate route will be able to work or look for work after their studies for a maximum period of 2 years. For Doctoral students, the period of leave granted will be for 3 years. Individuals who already have permission as a dependant of students applying on this route can apply to extend their permission as a dependant accordingly. New dependants, however, are not permitted on this route.

All students who began their studies in the fall of 2020 and entered the UK before 21 June 2021 will be eligible to apply. There is no cap on numbers, no minimum salary requirement, and no requirement for applicants to be sponsored by employers. This means that Graduate visa holders will potentially become an important recruitment pool for employers unable to sponsor Skilled Workers.

As for the fine print, the Graduate route will require applicants to make a new visa application before their student visa expires. Making the application will only be possible from inside the UK – which is why applicants who started their course during the pandemic (fall 2020) will need to show they came to the UK before 21 June 2021. Applicants will be expected to pay a visa fee of £700 as well as the Immigration Health Surcharge at the full rate of £624 per year. Students will also need to know the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) they used for their most recent Student (or Tier 4) application in order to apply for the Graduate route.

Important to note is that a period of leave under the Graduate route is not a path to settlement; time spent in the UK on the Graduate visa does not count towards settlement or indefinite leave to remain applications. The idea is that once graduates on the Graduate Route find a suitable job, they will be able to switch into the Skilled Worker category, which can then lead to settlement in the UK. If they do not find a suitable job, they can try to switch into another visa category, or they have to return to their home country.

A second important adjustment in this Statement of Changes is the detailed annex on the Global Talent visa, which is a more flexible, broader rebrand of the old “Tier 1: Exceptional Talent” visa category. Some of its more flexible characteristics include the fact that there is no cap on the number of people who can enter the UK on this visa, that it does not require an employer sponsorship, and that it reduces the leave needed to obtain indefinite leave to remain to 3 years instead of 5 in comparison with other Skilled Worker routes.

Generally, getting a Global Talent visa is a two-stage process. Preliminarily, an applicant will need an endorsement by a recognised organisation in the UK. The organisations are listed on the government website and include the British Academy for humanities and social science, Arts Council England for arts, culture, fashion, film and television, Tech Nation for digital technology, etc. The idea is that specialist bodies across different industries select individuals with a particular talent in their field for this visa. Each endorsing body has different criteria for applicants – it is therefore important that anyone thinking of making an application reads the guidance from the specific endorsing body in detail and ensures that they include all the information needed. The fee to make an application to an endorsing body is £456.

In addition to endorsements, there will also be a list of “prestigious prizes”, the winning of which will qualify applicants for a Global Talent visa without needing an endorsement, bypassing the first step of the visa process. The “prestigious prizes” include Nobel Prizes, Oscars, Golden Globes, Tony Awards, etc.

The second stage of the Global Talent application, then, is the visa process. This is quite straightforward, since there are no quota or financial requirements involved. Most applicants simply need a confirmation that they’ve been endorsed, a valid passport, and a tuberculosis test result if from certain countries. The visa application fee is £152, with a price drop to £97 for nationals of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden or Turkey. Global Talent visa holders will also have to pay the immigration health surcharge in full at £624.

A third important change concerns the conditions of leave to allow Hong Kong BNO’s to access public funds in the UK. Generally, foreign nationals who are not residents in the UK cannot access public funds such as Universal Credit, income support, child benefits, etc. In light of the new route to settlement for Hong Kong citizens which the Prime Minister unveiled last month, the immigration rules soften this requirement for Hong Kong BNO’s using that new visa to move to the UK. They will now be able to to apply for a change of conditions if destitute or at imminent risk of destitution.

Another change concerns the minimum salary for Skilled Workers, which now has to be calculated not only annually, but also hourly. The new Rules state that minimum pay for skilled workers can be no less than £10.10 an hour, even if the annual salary is above the required £25,600 a year (or the lower annual thresholds for new entrants, shortage jobs and people with PhDs). Except of this, some minor changes to the Skilled Worker visa were introduced, including an expansion (finally) of the Shortage Occupation List and changes to make it easier to recruit health and care staff from overseas.

Those are the main game changers contained in the new Statement of Changes. In addition, some other updates were released, including the numbers for the Youth Mobility Scheme allocations for 2021. There have also been some changes to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) suitability criteria, and the EUSS rules for family members, but these concern mostly technical matters.

The new rules will take effect on 6 April 2021 unless otherwise specified in the Statement, kicking off the implementation of the new immigration system the government promised to deliver on in 2019.

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