Posted on 26 Feb '24

UK Student Visas for Postgraduate Study – What Marketing and Recruitment Professionals Need to Know

International students play a crucial role in UK postgraduate education, making up around 46% of total Masters enrolments and 41% of total PhD enrolments (as of 21/22 HESA data). Needless to say, the diverse skills and perspectives they bring help underpin the quality (as well as the viability) of many specialist programmes.

This makes staying on top of UK visa policy especially important for postgraduate marketing and recruitment professionals – especially with a range of changes being made by the UK government in 2023 and 2024.

This page is designed to be a simple guide to student and graduate route visas for postgraduate recruitment. It introduces the key issues in a way that helps new practitioners understand them experienced practitioners fact-check them and all practitioners explain them to students.

We’ll aim to keep it updated, but if there’s something missing, something not quite right or something you can’t find the answer to, please let us know.

Recent and upcoming changes

Information in the sections below is up to date as of the publication of this guide, but here is a summary of recent and pending changes to visa policy:

  • From 17 July 2023 – most holders of Student Route visas can no longer switch to work visas prior to completing their course
  • From 4 October 2023 – the fee for a Student Route visa has increased from £363 to £490 and the fee for a Graduate Route visa has increased from £715 to £822
  • From 1 January 2024 – dependents will no longer be able to join students on taught Masters degrees
  • As of 6 February 2024 – the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge for Student Route visa applicants will increase from £470 per year to £776 per year and for Graduate Route and Skilled Worker visa applicants from £624 to £1,035 per year
  • On 4 April 2024 – the minimum salary threshold for a Skilled Worker Visa will increase from £26,200 to £38,700
  • TBC – the Graduate Route post-study work visa will be reviewed by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)

The Student Route visa

The Student Route is the main UK study visa. It entitles international students to live and study in the UK for the duration of a degree, plus (usually) a further four months. Those who successfully complete their course can then transfer on to further study with another Student Route visa, or post study work via the Skilled Worker or Graduate Route visas (see below).

Cost

The cost is normally £490 per application, plus the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge per year (see below).

Applicants must also demonstrate that they have enough money to pay their fees and support themselves during their course. The latter is currently set at £1,023 per month for courses outside London and £1,334 for courses within London. Students must have this amount for up to 9 months, depending on the length of their course. Exceptions are made for applicants from certain countries, or those who have already been in the UK on a valid visa for 12 months (e.g. a Bachelors graduate continuing on to Masters or PhD study).

Dependents

As of 1 January 2024 dependents can no longer join students on taught degrees (including Masters programmes) but can do so on PhD or ‘research-based higher degree’. Adult dependents must normally pay the same fees as the main visa holder.

Things to bear in mind

The following may help you when introducing and explaining the Student Route to postgraduates:

  • The fee for a Student Route visa is normally a one-off payment, not per year
  • The dependents ban for taught courses only applies to programmes beginning after 1 January 2024 – Masters students who began in Autumn 2023 should still be able to be joined by dependents
  • A ‘research-based higher degree’ may include MPhil or MRes programmes if the research component of the programme is larger than any taught component

The Graduate Route visa

The Graduate Route is a post-study work visa introduced in 2021. It allows Bachelors and Masters graduates to stay in the UK for up to two years after completing a course and PhD graduates to stay for up to three.

Applicants must apply before their current Student Route visa expires but their university will need to confirm successful course completion before the Graduate Route visa can be granted. There are no restrictions on the work someone can do on the Graduate Route and applicants do not need a job offer to apply.

Cost

The Graduate Route visa costs £822 (this is a one-off payment) but applicants will also need to pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge up front (see below).

Dependents

Students can technically bring dependents from their Student Route visa on to the Graduate Route with them. However, this will not be possible for most Masters students starting after 1 January 2024 as they will have been unable to bring dependents on their Student Route visa.

Things to bear in mind

The following may help you when introducing and explaining the Graduate Route to postgraduates:

  • PhD/Doctoral graduates can stay an extra year on the Graduate Route (three years vs two for a Bachelors or Masters)
  • The application fee for the Graduate Route is a one-off payment, not per-year
  • We don’t yet know what changes may be made to the Graduate Route following a planned review by the Migration Advisory Committee but they are unlikely to come into force in time to affect students graduating at the end of academic year 2023/24

The Skilled Worker visa

The Skilled Worker visa (previously known as 'Tier IV') is one of several immigration routes to work in the UK. Students can switch to a Skilled Worker visa after completing their course (but not before) either as an alternative to the Graduate Route or afterwards.

Unlike the Graduate Route, a Skilled Worker visa requires an offer of employment and sponsorship from an eligible employer paying a minimum salary of £26,200 per year (rising to £38,700 on 4 April 2024). There are some exceptions for specific professions, including alternative visas.

Cost

The cost of a Skilled Worker visa depends on how long an applicant intends to stay in the UK and whether they apply from inside or outside the country. Fees also vary for certain occupations.

The standard fee for most graduates applying from within the UK is £837 for a visa lasting up to 3 years or £1,500 for a visa lasting more than 3 years. Applicants must also pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge up front.

Dependents

Dependents can currently join a graduate on a Skilled Worker visa, even if they weren’t eligible to join on a previous Student Route and / or Graduate Route visa. They will normally need to pay the same fees as the main applicant.

Things to bear in mind

It’s generally best to refer students to an immigration specialist for matters concerning Skilled Worker visas as the policies are more complex and not directly related to study or graduation.

However, the following may help when answering basic questions from postgraduates:

  • A graduate can choose to apply for the Skilled Worker visa instead of the Graduate Route, but they will need an employer to sponsor them
  • Taking up the Graduate Route does not affect eligibility for the Skilled Worker visa; someone can complete the first and then proceed to the other (subject to sponsorship)
  • Choosing the Skilled Worker visa over the Graduate Route may allow a Masters graduate to be joined by their dependents sooner, but, again, this is subject to sponsorship

The immigration healthcare surcharge

The Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS) must be paid by holders of Student Route, Graduate Route and Skilled Worker visas as a contribution entitling them to NHS treatment whilst living in the UK.

Cost

The IHS is charged per year but paid up front for the intended duration of a visa. Rates are as follows:

  • £776 per year for Student Route applicants (was previously £470)
  • £1,035 per year for Graduate Route and Skilled Worker applicants (was previously £624)

Things to bear in mind

The following may help you when introducing and explaining the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge to postgraduates:

  • Remember that the full IHS must be paid up front
  • Most dependents over 18 will also need to pay the IHS
  • Payment of the IHS entitles international students to most standard NHS treatment (but does not normally cover prescriptions, dental treatment or sight tests)
  • The IHS is not optional and visa applicants must pay it even if they do not intend to use the NHS or have separate health insurance

Further information

This page is meant as a simple reference for postgraduate marketing and recruitment professionals. It is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the publication date on this page.

The following resources provide further detail and information:

UK government pages on:

(Giving accurate information for current applications, but not necessarily covering future changes.)

UK Council for International Student Affairs (an excellent and absolutely expert resource for students along with unpacking of policy news.)

Our own guides for prospective students on FindAMasters and FindAPhD.

Anything missing?

This page is intended to be a 'living' resource. If there's something else you think it should cover, something that isn't clear or something you have a question about, please let us know.


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