Staying in the UK To Work after Your Studies – Which Visa?

Isabel Morris

While you’re studying in the UK full-time, working here is a breeze!

But if you’re not an EEA or Swiss national and wish to stay here to live and work after graduation, you’ll need to look into other visa options.

Getting to grips with the UK visa system can be tricky, so we’ve made a general overview of what’s available to Tier 4 graduates. From sponsored internships to setting up your own business, you’ve got plenty of options available – but it’s important to get yourself organised before time runs out!

For more detailed and up-to-date information on anything we tell you here, please consult our handbook, the Home Office or UKCISA.

The usual route

In many cases, international graduates looking to stay in the UK to work after their studies will do so under Tiers 2 and 5.

Tier 2 (General) visas are for employment in specific jobs sponsored by a licensed employer. If you’re applying from within the UK to ‘switch’ from Tier 4 to Tier 2, there are some student exemptions that will make the process much smoother for you. Having just invested considerable public resources in your higher education, the UK actually wants you to stay on and work – remember this!

For details about these special arrangements for student visa holders, head to UKCISA’s website, but here’s the gist of what you’re eligible for:

  • UK switching permission – meaning that you don’t have to buy a flight back home to apply for a new visa, score!
  • Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) exemption – meaning that you don’t have to be the sole suitably skilled worker for your job across the entire EU, woohoo!
  • Unrestricted Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) eligibility – meaning that your employer’s sponsorship of you won’t detract from their monthly certificate allotment, phew!
  • Lower, ‘new entrant’ wage rates – meaning you won’t have to earn over £30,000 per annum in your graduate job, thank goodness!
  • Immigration Skills Charge exemption – meaning employers don’t lose money per year of your contract as a result of hiring you over a UK citizen, whatta win!

In short, if you’re hoping to switch to a Tier 2 visa after finishing university, it’s much easier if you are applying from the UK on your Tier 4.

Some employers aren’t aware of these student exemptions, so don’t be afraid to inform them if they’re concerned about your ability to work in the UK.

One to keep in mind

If you’re aged 18 to 30 and you’re from an eligible country, you can work in the UK for up to two years under the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme).

You might also qualify for Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) schemes, which are open to people of all ages and allow you to undertake specific types of work in the UK for one to two years.

It’s important to note, however, that neither Tier 5 route leads to settlement in the UK. Both include a 12-month ‘cooling off’ period after their expiration, wherein you can’t reapply for any work visa. Settlement , or ‘indefinite leave to remain’, means you can stay in the UK without any time restrictions.

Other avenues

  • If you’re a Commonwealth citizen with a grandparent born in the UK, you might qualify for a work visa on the basis of UK ancestry.
  • If you’re a Turkish citizen and want to set up in business in the UK, you may – because of a European agreement with Turkey – be able to stay longer to work if you’ve already been legally working in the UK.
  • If you’re already in the UK, it’s possible to remain here to undertake an internship directly related to the studies you’ve just undertaken in the UK, for up to 12 months under the Tier 5 Temporary Worker (Government Authorised Exchange) scheme.
  • If you’ve been endorsed as an emerging leader in your field or have at least £2 million to invest in the UK (though we're not suggesting that this applies to most of you!) you might consider the Tier 1 (Investor) or Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) schemes.
  • If you’re an innovator or wish to launch a start-up, there are also schemes for you.
So, make an action plan
  • Figure out your options while you’re still studying.
  • Make sure your target employers are willing and able to sponsor you.
  • Don’t hesitate to inform employers about the special exemptions for some visa types if they’re unaware of them.
  • Give yourself (and your employer) adequate time to work on your application, gather all necessary documents, and have your visa processed.
  • Plan ahead for the financial requirements of getting a visa.
  • The UK Visas and Immigration (Home Office) website has application forms, policy guidance, and other notes.
  • The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website contains useful information on working during and after studies as a non-citizen.
  • Our handbook features guidance for both graduates and employers on UK working visas and sponsoring international talent.
The information in this article is for guidance purposes only and does not intend to be a full representation of the immigration rules.