Discretionary arrangements for
Graduate visa applicants
affected by marking
23 August 2023
As the academic year draws to a close, many international students currently in the UK on a Student visa are now considering their next steps after completing their studies. Students who wish to stay in the UK after their Student visa expires must apply for permission under an alternative route. The most popular post-study immigration route is the Graduate visa.
A Graduate visa allows you to stay in the UK for at least 2 years after successfully completing a degree at undergraduate level or above at an eligible UK institution. During this time, Graduates can work, or look for work, at any skill level without requiring sponsorship from an employer.
However, many international students applying for a Graduate visa this year have been impacted by a marking boycott that is currently taking place across some UK universities. The action is being taken by members of the University and College Union (UCU) at over a hundred UK institutions in response to a dispute over pay and working conditions. The marking boycott began on 20 April this year and is expected to continue into the new academic year.
As a result of the boycott, concerns have been raised that some international students may be unable to apply for a Graduate visa following the usual process, as it requires them to have confirmation that their studies have been successfully completed. This will not be possible if students do not have their results before their Student visa expires.
To help mitigate these concerns whilst the marking boycott continues, the Home Office has introduced discretionary arrangements for students whose permission is about to expire. In this article, we set out the arrangements and address some frequently asked questions.
What are the discretionary arrangements?
The Home Office has stated that the following arrangements will apply where a student’s permission is about to expire:
- UKVI will consider exercising discretion and will hold Graduate route applications made before the applicant’s results have been received, provided that the results are received within 8 weeks of the application being made.
- Students who do not know when they will receive their results due to the boycott will be able to apply to extend their permission whilst they wait for their results. They will be exceptionally exempt from meeting the academic progression requirements. Sponsors should include a note on the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) that the extension is due to the marking boycott.
When can a Graduate visa application be made?
An application for a Graduate visa must be submitted before your current Student visa expires. In order to apply, you must be in the UK with valid Student permission (or where a Student permission subsists under section 3C). You cannot apply from overseas.
The Home Office will not approve your application for a Graduate visa until your sponsor has confirmed that you have successfully completed your course. Under the discretionary arrangements, your sponsor must provide this notification within 8 weeks of the application being made.
What happens if results are not received within 8 weeks?
If you have applied for a Graduate visa but your results are not received within 8 weeks and therefore successful completion of the course cannot be reported to UKVI within this window, your application may be refused. For this reason, applications made in this scenario are done so at the student’s own risk.
Where results are not expected to be available within a few weeks of the student’s permission expiring, and a student needs more time to be able to demonstrate they have completed the course of study, they can apply to extend their Student permission instead.
Extending permission as a Student
Typically, you can only apply to extend your student visa if you can satisfy the ‘academic progress requirement’. That is, to demonstrate to the Home Office that your new course will be at a higher academic level than your current course.
However, if it is necessary for a student to apply to extend their permission whilst waiting for their results due to the marking boycott, they will be exceptionally exempt from meeting academic progression requirements. All other requirements of the Student route, including having a new CAS, will still need to be met.
Once you have obtained your results you can then go on to apply for a Graduate visa at a later date, if you meet the requirements.
UKVI will not be responsible for any application fees or other costs associated with a student needing to make an extension application as a result of the marking boycott. Students should therefore be aware that the extra step of extending their visa will increase the overall cost of eventually obtaining a Graduate visa.
Which option should I choose?
Students and their sponsors should carefully consider the most appropriate and cost-effective option based on when results are expected to be received. It is up to the applicant to decide when to apply and under which route.
The Home Office recommends applicants seek the advice of an OISC registered immigration advisor if they require more information on their options.
Can I leave the UK whilst waiting for my application to be approved?
No. If you have made an application to extend or vary your permission before your current permission expires, you will have what’s known as section 3C leave. This is to protect your status in the UK and prevent you from becoming an overstayer whilst you are waiting for a decision on an “in-time” application.
You cannot travel overseas with a pending application. If you leave the UK, your section 3C leave will lapse and your pending immigration application will be treated as withdrawn.
What happens if my application is refused?
If your application for a Graduate visa is refused on the grounds of successful completion not being notified within 8 weeks and you no longer hold valid Student permission or section 3C leave, you will be required to leave the UK or apply to regularise in an alternative route appropriate to your circumstances.
The right to an administrative review can be exercised for refusals under Student and Graduate routes.
What about dependants?
Dependant applications made at the same time as the Student / Graduate will be treated in line with the main applicant. This means that the discretionary arrangements will also apply to dependants.
Advice for student sponsors
It is the sponsor’s responsibility to ensure that the successful completion notification is provided to the Home Office. Sponsors should be supporting the student with the most appropriate option based on the length of time the marking boycott is expected to continue.
UKVI has released a Q&A document which addresses the main concerns expressed by sponsors about these exceptional circumstances.
Should you require further advice or assistance, Smith Stone Walters can help. To speak to a qualified immigration advisor, please contact us today.