updated 2:28 PM CEST, May 24, 2023

U.S. graduates seen likely beneficiaries of new UK visa program for 'high potential individuals'

Graduation day at Columbia University in New York, one of the U.S. universities whose graduates will be eligible for the UK's new visa program Graduation day at Columbia University in New York, one of the U.S. universities whose graduates will be eligible for the UK's new visa program

A just-announced visa scheme aimed at encouraging university graduates from the world's "top 50 non-UK universities" to take entry-level jobs in their careers in Britain is being seen as potentially likely to attract a disproportionate number of U.S. graduates, owing to the percentage of U.S. universities on the "World's Top 50" list.

Given that many of the top U.S. universities attract significant numbers of foreign students as well as Americans, however, the extent to which the new "High Potential Individual Visa" will actually bring a significant number of U.S. citizen graduates to Britain won't be known until the program actually starts, observers say. 

Nevertheless, the news of the UK's new visa program, formally unveiled in a statement on May 30, has caught the attention of UK wealth managers who specialize in looking after American expatriates, as well as officials with the UK-based overseas programs of those "top 50" universities, and others, sources tell the American Expat Financial News Journal.

"Great news for gradutates of many U.S. colleges, and those who want to hire them in the UK," is how Vanessa Ganguin, founder and managing partner of London-based Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law, put it in a piece posted last week on the website of BritishAmerican Business (BAB), a transatlantic trade association that incorporates the British-American Chamber of Commerce in the U.S. and the American Chamber of Commerce in the UK.

"For those who qualify it looks set to be a very handy immigration route to the UK – also for employers who wat to hire people who have graduated from a top university in the past five years without the need for sponsorship."

The new High Potential Individual Visa had been in the works for some time, according to media reports over the past year, but it wasn't widely known about until it was formally unveiled by the government last week, at which point it was quickly picked up by the world's media. 

The new visa is one of a series of changes to the UK's immigration system that have been introduced in the wake of Britain's departure from the European Union, which make use of a new "points-based system" to manage the types of people the UK allows to come to live and work within its borders. 

In a statement on its website, the government noted that its "new visa route" for "High Potential Individuals" was being introduced in order to enable the UK to, in Chancellor Rishi Sunak's words, "continue to attract the best and brightest from across the globe."

"The [new visa] route means that the UK will grow as a leading international hub for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship," the UK-born Sunak, who himself received an MBA from California's Stanford University – currently ranked among the World's Top 50 universities – added. 

"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.

"The UK is already home to some of the most ground-breaking start-ups; on the forefront of R&D; and [is] an incredibly diverse and exciting place to live. 

"Come and join in!"

How it works

Under the High Potential Individual visa program, most successful applicants will be given a two-year work visa, although those with a PhD will be eligible for a three-year work visa, "and be permitted to move into other long-term employment routes," the government explains, in its online announcement of the program.

In her BAB website article, Ganguin notes that this means qualifying individuals "will be able to come to the UK without the need of a job offer or sponsorship and [once there], "work, look for work, work freelance or even start a business.

"They will be able to bring qualifying dependent family members, too." 

Ganguin adds that the government has vowed that applications for the program "will be processed speedily." 

The UK's Guardian news website reported that the UK Home Office declined to comment on how precisely many individuals would be allowed to enter the UK under the new High Potential Individual visa program, but it went on to note that the Telegraph had reported that it would be "uncapped, meaning the number would depend on demand."

The Guardian added that to be eligible, graduates must have attended universities that appear "in the top 50 rankings of at least two of the following: Times Higher Education world university rankings,  Quacquarelli Symonds world university rankings, or the Academic Ranking of World Universities."

In addition to having graduated from one of the world's top-ranked universities, applicants to the new visa program would also be expected to pass a security and criminality check, and be able to speak, read, listen and write English to a minimum standard, the Guardian noted.

The visa will cost £715 (around US$900) and is subject to an "immigration health surcharge", which is a fee that successful visa or immigration applicants pay to enable them to use the UK's National Health Service facilities.  Those applying for the visa are also required to have maintenance funds of at least £1,270, the Guardian report added. 

Below, from the UK government's website, is the most recent list of eligible universities from 2021, consisting of some 37 top non-UK universities, ranked alphabetically, taken from Top 50 rankings that appeared on two or more such lists.

(Twenty of these are U.S. institutions, while just five are European and none are located in Africa, India or Latin America.)  

Alphabetical Rankings Lists 2021 (establishments from Top 50 rankings which appeared on 2 or more lists)Country
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) USA
Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Hong Kong
Columbia University USA
Cornell University USA
Duke University USA
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland) Switzerland
ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) Switzerland
Harvard University USA
Johns Hopkins University USA
Karolinska Institute Sweden
Kyoto University Japan
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) USA
McGill University Canada
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore
National University of Singapore Singapore
New York University (NYU) USA
Northwestern University USA
Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University France
Peking University China
Princeton University USA
Stanford University USA
Tsinghua University China
University of British Columbia Canada
University of California, Berkeley USA
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) USA
University of California, San Diego USA
University of Chicago US USA
University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
University of Melbourne Australia
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor USA
University of Munich (LMU Munich) Germany
University of Pennsylvania USA
University of Texas at Austin USA
University of Tokyo Japan
University of Toronto Canada
University of Washington USA
Yale University USA