School’s Out! Visa Options for Recent University Graduates

3rd August 2023

As most universities have now closed for the summer, new graduates will be thinking about their next steps, including future employment opportunities.

As most universities have now closed for the summer, new graduates will be thinking about their next steps, including future employment opportunities. For employers, the abundance of university towns in the north of the UK means hiring recent graduates can be a great way to fill skills shortages in the regional employment market, but they need to know the relevant visa options to ensure any prospective employee has the correct right to work.

In this article, we discuss the main visa options for graduates currently on a Student visa (or a Tier 4 visa under the previous immigration rules), who are looking for employment post-graduation, specifically the Graduate visa and Skilled Worker visa routes.

Working on a Student Visa

Before discussing the main visa options for university graduates, it is worth highlighting that those who hold a Student visa are usually permitted to work. If they are on a full-time degree course, this is restricted to 20 hours per week during term time. However, if they have completed their studies and are outside of term time, they are able to work full-time.

For recent graduates, it is likely that their Student visa will be coming up to its expiry. If they wish to remain in the UK beyond this date, they must apply for a new visa before the expiry date of their existing Student visa. In the interim, however, employers can hire recent graduates on a full-time basis provided their Student visa is still valid, they have obtained evidence of course completion and they place them on a temporary contract. Individuals on a Student visa cannot be employed on a permanent contract.

Graduate Visa

The Graduate visa route gives migrants permission to live and work in the UK for up to two-three years immediately after successfully completing their course. Their completed degree must have been a UK bachelor’s level or above and have been taught in the UK, at an accredited institution.

This is an unsponsored route, meaning no sponsor licence is required for an employer, and there is no minimum salary requirement, aside from the national minimum wage. The visa is not tied to any specific type of employment or employer, so the individual is free to work or look for work where they wish and work in most jobs including self-employment or voluntary work. As such, there is no requirement for the employer to be involved in the visa application process, unless they choose to.

The Graduate visa is capped to a maximum length of two years for most graduates, or three years for PhD graduates. The Graduate visa cannot be extended and does not lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain (settlement) in the UK. However, individuals on a Graduate visa can later switch to an alternative visa type, such as a Skilled Worker visa.

Skilled Worker Visa

The Skilled Worker visa route (previously known as the Tier 2 General visa) is the other main visa option that allows graduates to remain and work in the UK after completing their studies.

This visa is directly linked to the migrant’s employment, so the business must hold a sponsor licence to enable them to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship for the migrant. There is also a minimum salary requirement of £26,200 per year or the going rate for the specific role, whichever is higher. This requirement can be lower in certain circumstances, such as if the applicant is applying as a ‘new entrant.’

To be eligible for this visa, the applicant must have successfully completed their studies. There is also an English language requirement for the Skilled Worker visa. However, one of the methods of meeting this requirement is by holding a UK-taught degree, and therefore it is likely this requirement will already be met by virtue of the applicant having studied in the UK.

The Skilled Worker visa can be granted for a maximum of five years, or a maximum of four years if applying as a ‘new entrant’, in the first instance. Any visa length can be applied for, it is not restricted to these maximums. Skilled Worker visas can also be extended indefinitely and can lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain (settlement) after five years. It is therefore a great option for employers who are looking to hire a new graduate on a permanent basis.

Advice for Northern Employers

Historically, top workforce talent in the UK has seemed to drift towards London in terms of location. However, the North’s lower living costs, positive quality of life and career opportunities are attracting employees to come to, and stay, in the North. By harnessing this shift and plugging skills gaps as well as broadening their workforce by hiring recent graduates, Northern businesses can expand and thrive.

If you are a Northern employer looking to hire a recent University graduate, the Graduate visa option is cheaper and more flexible, but its validity is limited and it does not lead to settlement for the employee, meaning it is not a permanent solution. The Skilled Worker visa option, on the other hand, requires the employer to hold a sponsor licence, meaning there are additional compliance obligations, but this visa can be extended indefinitely and leads to settlement for the employee. It is not unusual for employers to utilise the Graduate visa route in the short term, with a view to sponsoring strong performers for a Skilled Worker visa in the longer term.

The main differences between the two visa types are outlined in the chart below.


Graduate Visa

Skilled Worker Visa


No sponsorship required

Sponsorship required

Completion of Studies

Must have successfully completed studies

Must have successfully completed studies

Minimum Salary

National minimum wage

£26,200 or the going rate for the role *

Visa Length

2 years for most graduates, 3 years for PhD graduates

Any length up to a maximum initial period of 5 years, or 4 years for ‘new entrants’

Route to Settlement

No, but can switch into a different category that leads to settlement

Yes, after 5 years

* A lower salary requirement may apply.

How can Fragomen help?

Fragomen is available to assist businesses of all sizes with their immigration needs. Our highly experienced team can provide support on sponsor licence applications and can fully support your business as you navigate immigration requirements surrounding graduates and visa applications.  If you need assistance, please feel free to contact us at

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