UK Working Visas

While you're studying at a UK institution, your student visa typically allows you to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and unlimited hours during your vacation without requiring your employer to obtain permission – breezy! But, if you wish to stay in the UK to work after graduation, you'll need to look for other visa opportunities. In this section, we’ll present a general overview of what’s available to Tier 4 graduates – everything from sponsored employment to setting up a business, internships or work experience, and an extension year for doctoral students to work. For more detailed and up-to-date information on anything we tell you here, please consult either the Home Office or UKCISA.

  • Tier 1 – exceptional talent and investor visas
  • For business – start-up and innovator visas
  • Tier 2 – sponsored employment
  • Tier 5 – youth mobility and temporary worker visas
  • Extensions, cooling off periods, and settlement
  • EEA and Swiss nationals, and family
  • Other points-based systems
  • Resources

High value migrants

Tier 1 (Investor) visas are granted to those from outside the EEA and Switzerland with at least £2 million to invest in the UK.

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas are granted to those working in a qualifying field who have been endorsed as a recognised or emerging leader, usually internationally.

If you are – like the vast majority of us – not on your way to win the Nobel Prize with £2 million in your pocket, don’t stress. Thankfully, there are lots of other opportunities available.

For business

The Innovator Scheme is for people who have access to £50,000 to invest in their business idea, and an endorsement from an authorised body.

The Start-up Scheme (replacing the previous Graduate Entrepreneur Scheme) is aimed at people who wish to establish a business in the UK, and who have a business plan endorsed by a Home Office-approved endorsing body.

Sponsored employment

Tier 2 (General) visas are for employment in specific jobs sponsored by a licensed employer. Your starting salary must be appropriate to the type of work and be at least £20,800 per annum, as of July 2019.

For those applying from within the UK to ‘switch’ from Tier 4 (General) to Tier 2 (General), there are some student exemptions that are important to know about. We’ll describe them briefly here, but please head to UKCISA's website for details.

  • Generally, in order to apply under Tier 2, you need a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) issued by a registered employer.
  • Usually, in order to issue a CoS your employer must have advertised the position you’ve been hired for as required by the Home Office, which involves passing a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT).
  • To pass the RLMT, an employer must show that no suitably skilled settled worker (i.e. someone who already has the right to work in the UK) can do the job, even if you are the best candidate.

If you’re being hired as a graduate, chances are your employer won’t pass RLMT – lots of settled workers probably have just as many skills and as much experience as you! To make matters worse, the Home Office only allocates a certain number of CoSs per month, meaning the process can take ages.

But, luckily for you, your employer is exempt from this requirement if you are applying for a Tier 2 visa from within the UK under the special arrangements for student visa holders.

  • Not only can students switching from Tier 4 qualify for RMLT exemption, they also qualify for UK switching permission, unrestricted CoS, and lower ‘new entrant’ wage rates.
  • Employers of applicants switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2 are exempted from paying an Immigration Skills Charge (normally levied at £1,000 per year of contract), meaning they don’t lose money from hiring you over a UK citizen.

Some employers may not be aware of these special exemptions for Tier 4 students. Don’t be afraid to inform your potential employer about these arrangements if they’re concerned about your ability to work in the UK.

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.

Youth mobility

Under the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme), you can work in the UK for up to two years. This scheme is available to holders of specific passports, under the age of 31 at the time of application.

Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) schemes – open to people of all ages – allow you to undertake specific types of work in the UK for a period of one or two years, depending on the scheme.

Importantly, neither route leads to settlement in the UK. Settlement, or ‘indefinite leave to remain’, means you can stay in the UK without any time restrictions.

Extensions, cooling off periods and settlement

You can extend your Tier 2 visa for up to six years, both with the same employer and by switching to different employment (also with a registered sponsor employer).

The Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme (DES) allows students completing a doctorate in the UK to extend their visa for one year to look for work, or to set up a business.

When your Tier 2 expires or when you leave the UK after holding a Tier 2, you enter into a 12-month ‘cooling off’ period wherein you are cannot reapply for a work visa. The same rule applies to other visa types, including some Tier 5 schemes.

After five years on a Tier 2 visa, or Tier 2 combined with Tier 1, you are eligible to apply for settlement if you are still going to be in your job. The time you spend in the UK under a Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 4 visa also goes towards settlement under the ten year rule, which allows you to apply for settlement if you’ve been in the UK legally for 10 continuous years.

EEA and Swiss nationals, and family

As long as the UK is a member state of the EU, the rights of European Economic Area and Swiss nationals and their family members to work in the UK continue.

EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who are living in the UK can apply for settlement under the EU Settlement Scheme. If the UK leaves the EU, settled status and pre-settled status will be a prerequisite for you to work in the UK without restrictions.

Chapter 6 of The UK's future skills-based immigration system white paper outlines the proposed arrangements for EEA and Swiss nationals who wish to work in the UK from 1 January 2021.

Other points-based systems

  • 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.


The most important thing to remember is that the UK wants you to stay and use your skills here, having just invested considerable public resources in your higher education.

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.

The information in this article is for guidance purposes only and does not intend to be a full representation of the immigration rules.

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