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Working in the UK after your studies: A guide to visas

Korean student shaking employer's hand

Last updated: 4 November 2015

There are lots of options available to international students who want to stay and work in the UK after their studies. Below are the three most common visa schemes available to international students: Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 5.

If you’re considering staying in the UK after your studies, you may need to apply for a visa extension. You can check whether you need a visa at UK Visas & Immigration. Depending on the type of employment you want to pursue, how long you want to stay and your current visa status, you may need to apply for one of these three work visas.

You can apply online to any of these visa schemes.

 

Tier 2
General

Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur

Tier 1 Entrepreneur

Tier 5
Youth Mobility

Tier 5 Temporary Worker

Type of visa

Employer sponsored

Endorsed by your institution

Non-sponsored

Non-
sponsored (except those applying from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Republic of Korea)

Employer sponsored

What do I need to qualify?

Job offer from Tier 2 sponsor

Endorsement by your institution or the Sirius programme

Investment of £200,000 or £50,000

Age 18–30, must be eligible nationality

Tier 5 sponsor

Maximum time permitted in this category?

5 years

1 year (potential for 1-year extension)

3 years (potential for 2-year extension)

2 years

Up to 2 years

Can I apply to settle permanently in the UK?

Yes, after 5 years

No

Yes after 3 or 5 years

No

No

Can I take on work outside my main job/business venture?

Yes, with conditions

Yes

No

Yes

Yes, with conditions

Can I extend this visa?

Up to 1 year

Up to 1 year

Up to 2 years

No

Depends on Tier 5 scheme

Can I bring dependants?

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

For information about student visas, please go to the Visas section.

Tier 2 General – Employment

If you’re in search of full-time employment after your studies, the most common route is to apply for a Tier 2 General visa. Depending on your terms of employment, Tier 2 enables you to stay in the UK for up to five years, but you will need to secure a job before applying as the visa is granted on the basis of already having found employment in the UK.

If you want to switch from a Tier 4 to a Tier 2 (General) visa you must have gained one of these qualifications while you were studying in the UK:

  • a UK bachelor’s degree
  • a UK master’s degree
  • a postgraduate certificate in education
  • a professional graduate diploma of education.

There are a number of other visa categories that allow you to switch to a Tier 2 visa from within the UK. Make sure to read the full policy guidance before you apply. 

If you’re a PhD student, you must have completed at least 12 months’ study for your PhD during your most recent stay in the UK and had permission to take the qualification.

What do I need to apply?

Applying for the visa is straightforward. You just need to make sure you meet all the requirements and have all the right documentation.

  • Sponsorship: Your employer must provide you with a certificate of sponsorship. Your employer must have a Tier 2 sponsor licence; click here for the official list of Tier 2 (General) licensed sponsors
  • Salary: Your pre-tax salary must be at least £20,800. There are certain exceptions to this listed here.
  • Proof of English language ability: You may need to prove your knowledge of English. This requirement is met with a degree-level qualification from a UK institution or an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree. You may also use a Secure English Language Test providing it as at a B1 level.
  • Funds: You need to show you have had at least £945 in your bank account for a period of 90 consecutive days ending no more than 31 days before you make your application. The other option is to get your sponsor’s written certification that they can support and accommodate you for the first month you’re employed.
  • Documents: Make sure you carefully read the list of required documents.

Tier 5 – Youth Mobility Scheme

With the Youth Mobility Scheme, you can work in the UK for up to two years.

This scheme is available to nationals between the ages of 18 and 30 of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Taiwan, and to British Overseas Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens and British Nationals (Overseas).

You can only apply to this scheme from outside the UK.

What do I need to apply?

  • Sponsorship: You need a certificate of sponsorship. If you are from Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea or Taiwan, look here for more details about getting the appropriate certificate from your government. If you are from one of the other eligible countries or you have British citizenship, you are not required to register your interest and can just apply using your passport as evidence that you are sponsored, but places are limited.
  • Funds: You must have £1,890 in savings on the date on which you apply for entry clearance.
  • Documents: Make sure you read up on the different ways you can evidence funds (e.g. letter from a bank or building society).

For a full overview of the Youth Mobility Scheme, check the Home Office’s website.

Tier 5 – Temporary Worker

A Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa allows you to work in the UK for up to 12 or 24 months (depending on the scheme you’re applying for), or the time given on your certificate of sponsorship (which you must have in order to get a visa) plus 28 days, whichever is shorter.

If you are offered a job in one of the following areas by a licensed sponsor, then you qualify for a Tier 5 Temporary worker visa:

In most cases you need to leave the UK to apply for this scheme. The only limited exception that allows you to apply from within the UK is if you apply under Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) in order to undertake professional training or an internship. Read more on this at UKCISA.

What do I need to apply?

The requirements for each of the five schemes above vary significantly, but in general you will need the following:

  • Sponsorship: You must have a Tier 5 sponsor under the scheme of relevance to you. Here is a full list of Tier 5 sponsors. If you are on the Government Authorised Exchange scheme, you need a sponsor from this list.
  • Funds: Make sure you can show that you have held funds of £945 for a period of 90 consecutive days.
  • Documents: The required documents vary significantly between each of the Tier 5 schemes. The Home Office has produced guides in English and simplified Chinese that you can use to help you prepare your documentation for a Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa.

Tier 1 – Entrepreneur

The Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa allows you to stay in the UK for a maximum of three years if applying from within the UK, or three years and four months if applying from outside the UK. It’s designed to help people who want to set up a successful business in the UK. You may extend this visa for two more years, but bear in mind the total time you can stay in the UK under this visa scheme is five years.

You can’t do any other work outside your business – but if your business does well and you stay for five years on this visa, you can apply for settlement in the UK.

  • You must be at least 16 years old and want to set up or run a business in the UK
  • You must be from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.

What do I need to apply?

  • Investment funds: You must have evidence of either £50,000 or £200,000 in investment funds. (Read more about what sources your funding must be from at UKCISA and what evidence of investment funds you can provide here).
  • Proof of English language level: You may need to pass an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening OR have an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree. You don’t need to prove knowledge of English if you are a national of one of these countries.
  • Registration: You must register with HM Revenue & Customs as self-employed, and/or must register your new business or as director of an existing business within six months of arriving in the UK or having been granted leave under this category in the UK.
  • Personal funds: You must have £3,310 in personal savings if you are applying from outside the UK or £945 in personal savings if you are applying from inside the UK. These savings must have been in your bank account for 90 consecutive days. This 90-day period must end within 31 days of your application date.  

Tier 1 – Graduate Entrepreneur

If you’re a recent UK graduate or post-doctoral researcher with a Tier 2 visa and you have a genuine and credible business idea, you can apply to stay for one year on a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa.

Be aware that from 6 April 2015, it is not possible to apply for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepeneur visa if the main purpose of your business is to engage in property development or property management.

What do I need to apply?

  • Sponsorship: There are two ways of getting endorsement:
    • From an authorised UK college or university (this does not have to be one where you have already studied) issued in the last three months;
    • Take part in the Sirius Programme, which supports final-year students and recent graduates with advice on funding and immigration.
  • Education qualification: You need a UK-recognised bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD awarded before your date of endorsement. Anything below this level, like a foundation degree, or that you have not studied for personally, like an honorary degree, will not be sufficient.
  • Funds: Proof of £945 in savings if applying from inside the UK, or £1,890 if applying from outside the UK – you must have had this in your bank account for 90 days before you apply. This 90-day period must end within 31 days of your application date.  
  • Proof of English language level: You may need to pass an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening, OR have an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree.
  • Documentation: Check the Gov.uk website to see what other documents you need for a complete application.

You can read more about switching to a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa from a Tier 4 student visa or Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa on the UKCISA website.

More top tips for your visa application

  • For Tier 2 and Tier 1, check if you need permission to remain in the UK from your financial sponsor if they’re a government or an international scholarship agency and have paid your course fees and living costs in the past 12 months.
  • For many of these schemes, you must have successfully completed your course of study in the UK before applying.
  • Make sure you apply before your current permission to be in the UK expires. Otherwise, you will need to return to your home country and apply from there. In some cases (such as when applying for a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa) you will need to go back to your home country and apply for entry clearance from there.  
  • Make sure that you have your funds in a bank account that is acceptable to the UK Home Office. Other forms of financial evidence are acceptable; check this list.
  • Check if you need a tuberculosis test result here.
  • Leave plenty of time for your sponsor to issue your certificate.
  • If you need anything translated, make sure you read the Home Office guidelines for correctly certifying a translation here.
  • Read the full guidelines from the Home Office for your specific visa before beginning your application.

These are not the only visa options that exist. In some rarer cases, you might fall under other categories, so do consult the full list of visas on this Home Office page. One example is the British Ancestry visa, which is available where you have British-born grandparents and are a Commonwealth citizen.


Thanks to UKCISA for reviewing this article.