World's top graduates get new UK visa option

Students posing for celebration photographs after a graduation ceremony at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, LancashireImage source, Getty Images

Graduates from the world's top universities will be able to apply to come to the UK under a new visa scheme.

The government says the "high-potential individual" route will attract the "brightest and best" early in their careers.

The scheme will be available to alumni of the top non-UK universities who have graduated in the past five years.

Graduates will be eligible regardless of where they were born, and will not need a job offer in order to apply.

Successful applicants will be given a work visa lasting two years if they hold a bachelor's or master's degree, and three years if they hold a PhD.

They will then be able to switch to other long-term employment visas if they meet certain requirements. There will be no cap on the number of eligible graduates.

To qualify, a person must have attended a university which appeared in the top 50 of at least two of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings or The Academic Ranking of World Universities, in the year in which they graduated.

The list of eligible universities from 2021, published online by the government, featured 20 US universities, including Harvard, Yale and MIT.

There were a further 17 qualifying institutions, including the University of Hong Kong, University of Melbourne and the Paris Sciences et Lettres University.

Some academics have voiced their disappointment that no South Asian, Latin American or African universities have been included on the list.

Christopher Trisos, director and senior researcher at the University of Cape Town, told the BBC that it is a deeply inequitable approach.

He said that if the UK wants to play a role in addressing the major challenges of this century, such as energy access, climate change and pandemics, "then they need to be recognising and including diverse skills and in-depth knowledge held by many graduates from universities in developing countries".

The visa will cost £715 plus the immigration health surcharge, a fee which allows migrants to the UK to use the NHS.

Graduates will be able to bring their families, although they must have maintenance funds of at least £1,270.

They will also have to pass a security and criminality check and be proficient in English to at least the B1 intermediate level, defined as having the "fluency to communicate without effort with native speakers".

The scheme follows changes to allow international students currently studying in the UK to stay and work for up to two years.

The student visa scheme, which was re-introduced two years ago, reversed a decision made in 2012 by then Home Secretary Theresa May, which forced overseas students to leave four months after finishing a degree.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said the combination of university lists used "provides independent validation for institutions and opens up the opportunity for new international universities to move up the ranks and join this list in the future".

They added that each of the eligible universities attracts students from across the globe to study, and that there are "several other routes eligible for graduates from other universities including the Graduate, Skilled Worker and Global Talent routes".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "The route means that the UK will grow as a leading international hub for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

"We want the businesses of tomorrow to be built here today, which is why I call on students to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to forge their careers here."