External contractor, IFF Research, conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with 50 graduate route permission holders to gain a deeper understanding of their experience of the new visa application process and their career goals after graduation.
The most influential feature of the graduate route when deciding whether to stay in the UK, was the flexibility it affords holders, the research revealed.
Respondents were using the route to work in the UK with all either in employment, self-employment or looking for employment, with most now working in professional level jobs and earning between £20,000-30,000 a year.
Surprisingly, over half of the students surveyed stated the graduate route did not influence their initial decision to apply to study in the UK at all, and only 20% stated it did influence their decision “a great deal”.
The pattern remained the same across undergraduate and postgraduate respondents, with one candidate explaining simply, “I wanted to study here in the UK [regardless]. It is the best country to study in. The standard of living is good here”.
While 56% of respondents said that it was easy to find information about the graduate route, 30% said it had been difficult and many felt the application fee and health surcharge were disproportionate and unfair.
Some candidates reported technical difficulties using the digital app, with one respondent saying “the digital application was not clear on alternative options if the process did not work or if the mobile device used was not compatible with the system”.
The majority of interviewees planned to extend their stay beyond the duration of their current visa; for many, this could mean switching to the skilled worker route.
Permanent residency is clearly a long-term goal for many students, with 84% of respondents indicating they intend to switch to the skilled worker visa route to extend their employment in the UK once the graduate route expires.
One student who was interviewed explained how they intended to accumulate the necessary time to be eligible for indefinite right to remain, saying the skilled worker visa is appealing after their graduate route visa runs out, as they are eligible for indefinite leave after 10 years.
“After this visa runs out and I find an employer to sponsor me for three more years, that will be the easiest way for me to stay,” they said.
Another student added “once my current visa runs out, [the skilled worker visa] would be my route to stay in the UK. If I stay long enough in the UK, it will let me naturalise.”
Two in five (42%) graduate route permission holders also reported planning to change jobs before the end of their current visa. Some 84% reported wanting to find a new job, while 11% wanted to become self-employed and 5% planned on returning to study.
“I’ve been looking for other full-time positions, but it has been hard to find one which allows me to start immediately”
There was anecdotal evidence that students were finding work that wasn’t necessarily related to their specialism or area of study.
“The job role is great, but this is not the field I studied in; I have a different specialisation,” said one respondent, while another explained “I’ve been looking for other full-time positions, but it has been hard to find one which allows me to start immediately.”
The survey comes amid criticism of the Higher Education Statistics Agency for not doing enough to track international graduate career outcomes as part of the UK international education strategy.
The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services recently published its own survey of international students who had successfully applied for the graduate route and skilled worker visas, which found 60% of respondents had secured work in the UK after graduation.