UK Immigration & Nationality Lawyers

Helena Sheizon
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Helena Sheizon

How the promised Graduate Route will compare to the Skilled Worker route

A guide for international students

Graduate Route will be open this summer for international graduates who complete their degree at an undergraduate level or above (Masters, MPhil or PhD) in the summer 2021 or later and who have a valid Tier 4 visa at the time of application.

Those who complete a professional course or a course leading to a diploma in a regulated profession (ACCA, LPC, Bar Vocational Course, etc) are also eligible.

graduatedThe application process for a Graduate visa is expected to be very simple. You will not need a sponsor, you will not need a job offer and you will not be required to show any savings or maintenance funds. The application will most likely be made online, as most applications are. You will be required to pay the application fee which has not yet been confirmed, and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The amount of IHS may be £624 per year (as for most immigration categories) or £470 per year (a reduced amount which applies to Students, Youth Mobility visa applicants, and in some other categories).

The Graduate visa will allow you to spend additional two years in the UK with an unrestricted right to work or set up your own business. However, these two years will not count toward settlement, other than settlement on the basis of 10-year long residence.

Graduate route will not be extendable, and will be restricted to “once in a lifetime” – in other words, you will not be able to return to studies and apply for the graduate route second time.

However, you will be allowed to switch into the Skilled Worker route, Start-up or Innovator, or Global talent route. And of course, the investor route is still there if you have a spare two million pounds to invest.

Skilled Worker Route replaced Tier 2 in December 2020

The main features of this route:

  • There is no resident labour market test
  • Sponsorship is required and only the employer can be the sponsor of the employee
  • You have to be paid above a certain level
  • The job has to be classed as requiring a sufficient level of skill (NQF level 3 – much lower than for Tier 2 in the past)
  • This route leads to settlement after five years

The main barriers to entry into this route are:

  • The cost to the employer (there is an Immigration Skills Charge in addition to the cost of the sponsor licence and a one off fee for assigning the certificate of sponsorship)
  • The minimum salary requirement that may reduce your competitiveness on the labour market
  • Additional paperwork that may put off a potential employer

Potential benefits of sponsorship for the employer:

  • A higher level of mutual commitment between the employer and employee
  • Diversity in workplace
  • Your skills and knowledge that are unique and add value

On the face of it, the Skilled Worker route appears more restrictive than the Graduate route. However, there are certain advantages of switching from Student visa to Skilled Worker route that you shouldn’t forget about.

Reduced cost to the employer

If you are switching from Tier 4 or Student visa into the Skilled Worker route, the employer will be exempt from the main financial burden – the Immigration Skills Charge. This applies for the whole five year period of sponsorship even if you are sponsored in two or more stretches of two or three years.

Your salary has additional flexibility

You will be entitled to New Entrant rate if you are switching from Student visa to the Skilled Worker route or if you are applying for the Skilled Worker route from outside the UK and you graduated within two years of applying.

You shouldn’t have held any other visa to the UK after your Tier 4 or Student visa ended. Your progression from Tier 4 to Skilled Worker has to be continuous even if there is a gap between the visas, otherwise your entitlement to New Entrant route is lost, unless you are under 26 or applying for a training position that would lead to a qualification in a regulated profession.

New Entrant rate means that the general minimum threshold for you will be £20,480 compared to £25,600 for experienced workers. The “going rate” for your occupation will also be reduced to 70% of the standard going rate. The immigration rules list

Some unexpected occupations you may find in the list of skilled jobs

The level of skills required for the Skilled Worker route is way lower than what it was for Tier 2. As an example, marketing profession is now open for marketing assistants and marketing executives – under Tier 2 it was available only at the level of Marketing Director.

low skilled worker sponsorship visaBut it is not only the lower level jobs in business management and sales that found their way to sponsored professions – teaching assistants, childminders, nursery assistants, senior care assistants, au pairs, playgroup supervisors, window dressers, kennel assistants, grooms, stable assistants, and florists are on the list.

On a practical level, many of these professions are only available to New Entrants because the general minimum pay threshold (£25,600 per year) puts the employer in a position where they have to pay nearly double of the going rate if they have to hire a foreign worker.

For example, “going rate” for a stable hand is £16,900 per year. Employing an experienced worker from overseas would require a salary of £25,600. A new entrant can be employed for a salary of £20,480 – still £3000 above the going rate, but this can be compensated by some extra hours on behalf of the employee, provided per hour rate does not go below the minimum wage).

This is not to suggest that international students should necessarily seek work as florists or creche workers – but those who wish to take up these jobs should be aware that the “new immigration system” allows it albeit in a rather restrictive way.

If you are a horse fanatic, as I am, and wish to work as a groom, riding instructor, of a stable hand, speak to the stable yard before your student visa expires. If they want to sponsor you but don’t know how to go about it, ask them to give us a call or send us an email.

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Post Author

Helena Sheizon

Helena Sheizon

Helena is the founder and managing director of Kadmos Consultants. She was called to the bar in 2005 and has been specialising in immigration since 2006. She is registered as Level 3 (OISC top level) immigration advisor with a licence for Judicial Review case management.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi there, I have received a job offer for 2 years after my PhD but am unsure which visa would suit me best. I am not entirely sure that I will stay in my post for 2 years and I wanted to know if I moved employers on the skilled worker visa, would I have to pay the visa application fee again to move?

    Thank you


    1. You can accept this job offer with Graduate route or you can apply for a skilled worker visa. Graduate route will give you more flexibility and you can switch to the skilled worker route later if you need to. You won’t be able to switch from the skilled worker into the graduate route, though.

  2. Hello,

    If a recent graduate has a job offer and a sponsor, can he/she apply for the Skilled Worker Visa rather than the Graduate Route? Because Tier 2 allows you to eventually apply for permission to remain in the UK.

    Thank you,


    1. Yes, absolutely. You can apply for a Skilled Worker visa (which is the current remake of Tier 2) and after five years you can apply for indefinite leave to remain. The benefit of switching into the Skilled Worker route from Tier 4 is that your employer will be exempt from the Immigration Skills Charge throughout the period of sponsorship. If you apply under the Graduate route first, it will give you more flexibility (you can easily change employment and try out a few things) and you can switch into the Skilled Worker route at a later stage. But the disadvantage is that it will delay your ILR and for the employer there will be a higher cost of hiring you.

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