Graduate Visa Options for International Students

Student Circus
28.11.23 – 05 Mins Read

If you are an international student or graduate who wishes to stay in the UK after university to work, you should know about the work visa you need to be able to do so. The kind of visa sponsorship you need will also influence your job search methods, so get to know the Graduate Route and the Skilled Worker Visa in this blog. 

Many international students wish to work in the UK and gain UK-based work experience. You invest a lot of time and resources in your degree, so it makes sense to maximise your career outcomes and seek experience opportunities in a new country. Unlike graduates from the UK, international students cannot apply for any job; there are some restrictions to be followed according to your visa.

In order to legally work in the UK after graduation, you need to have a valid work visa. This can be sponsorship from a licensed employer, or you should apply for a post-study work visa independently. This may sound confusing, so let us simplify it for you.

Case 1: If you wish to work in the UK without needing employer sponsorship…

You’ll need the Graduate Visa, or “the post-study work visa”. You will need to apply for the visa on your own, in plenty of time, so you have the visa before you graduate or your Student Visa expires. This visa allows you to stay in the UK and look for a job and work for 2 years (or 3 years if you pursued a PhD degree) after completion of your degree. 

This visa allows you to be self-employed, freelance with various clients, or work part-time for multiple employers, so there’s much more flexibility than other options. Since you don’t require a specific employer to sponsor your visa, you are not tied to a single organisation and can work more fluidly. 

Your visa starts from the day that your application gets approved. If you only want to stay in the UK briefly, gain a few years’ work experience and then move back to your home country, then the post-study Graduate Visa is the ideal option. 

What happens after the 2 (or 3) years are up? This is a restriction of the Graduate Visa. Once the 2 years on your visa are over, you will need a sponsored visa if you wish to continue working in the UK. This is why the Skilled Worker Visa becomes important. 

Case 2: If you wish to work in the UK on a Skilled Worker Visa sponsorship

Your other option to stay and work in the UK is on a Skilled Worker Visa. As per the Home Office; “A Skilled Worker visa allows you to come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job with an approved employer.” Because your visa has to be sponsored by a licensed sponsor employer, the effective size of the job market is smaller for you. 

If you seek sponsorship, you cannot just apply for any role at any company; you need to apply for roles for a company actively sponsoring a visa. This is why Graduate Programmes and Schemes at big corporations are so popular among international graduates. You can find filtered visa-sponsored jobs on the job board at Student Circus and save time in your job search.  

You can only apply for job opportunities with companies that can sponsor you. This sponsorship ensures you can work with the company in the UK longer than the restricted 2/3 years under the Graduate Visa. 

The Skilled Worker visa can be valid for up to 5 years before you are required to extend it. You will have to make an application for an extension if you change jobs or employers or if the visa expires, whichever is sooner. 

You can also bring your dependents on this visa, whereas on the Graduate Route, only existing dependents (from your Student Visa) are allowed to stay on as dependents. 

Another long-term benefit of the Skilled Worker visa is that you can apply for permanent settlement in the UK — an indefinite leave to remain — if you’ve lived in the UK for 5 years on this visa and meet the other eligibility requirements. By contrast, the 2/3 years you spend on the Graduate Route do not count towards these 5 years. 

Other ways to work in the UK after your graduation

The above two options are the most popular for an international student/graduate to stay and work in the UK. But there are some other ways you can work in the UK after completing your degree. These are relatively less popular modes because of specific eligibility requirements and restrictions. You can also explore these options if you like. 

Starting your own business in the UK: Innovator Founder Visa

Previously there were different visa categories for international graduates looking to start a business in the UK. As of 13 April 2023, the Innovator Founder Visa replaces them all. This visa applies to someone either a) seeking to start a new business in the UK or b) with an existing business or businesses that have the endorsement of an approved endorsing body. 

Anyone wishing to start or set up a new business in the UK must prove that their business idea is “new, innovative, viable, and scalable.” Then, they need an endorsing body to back up your business idea. 

You will be granted this visa for 3 years when you apply, and you can bring your dependents or family members to the UK while on this visa. You can apply to extend your stay by 3 years at the expiration of the three years. You can also explore the option of settling in the UK permanently. Every time you make an application, whether the initial application, extension or settlement, you will need an endorsement from an endorsing body. 

Global Talent Visa

This category of visas is meant to encourage internationally recognised talent or leaders in arts and culture, humanities and social sciences, natural sciences, medical science research, engineering, or digital technology, to live and work in the UK. 

Either a designated body must endorse your visa application, or you must be the recipient of one of the awards/prizes listed in the category. This visa lets you live and work in the UK for 5 years at a time, and you can apply for an extension as many times as you like and, later on, for settlement.

High Potential Individual Visa

The High Potential Visa route allows you to stay in the UK for 2/3 years, depending on your degree level. To be eligible for this visa, you should have been awarded a degree from one of the top global universities outside the UK. You can check the list of universities on the Home Office website. 

You can bring your dependents on this route, but these years do not count towards settlement. 

Scale-up Worker Visa

If you are going to work for a fast-growing business in the UK, also called a Scale-up business, you can secure a Certificate of Sponsorship from your employer and apply for the scale-up visa. You can work on this visa for 2 years and extend it for 3 years when it expires. 

For this visa, the business and your job role should fulfil certain requirements, such as salary and business size, among other parameters. 

Being aware of the types of visas will help you plan your job search. Check which visas apply to your situation and modify your job search to maximise your results.