Visas and permits for international students who wish to work in the UK

Visas and permits for international students who wish to work in the UK

Find out about the UK’s point-based system and what it means for international students looking for work.

International students who are job hunting need to know about the schemes that enable non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals to work in the UK, which are consolidated under one points-based system. The various schemes are described in detail below.

Are you eligible for a visa?

This will depend on which visa you're applying for. Check this by using the information on GOV.UK - Visas and immigration.

You're advised to prepare your application and documentation carefully. If you need advice beyond the guidance on the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) website, speak to appropriate professionals and advisory sources, for example your university's international student advisers or UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs). You can also use the services of immigration professionals – see the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA) for a directory of members – for which you will be charged a fee. Some law or advice centres provide basic advice free of charge.

As visa requirements change frequently, employers may not be aware of current rules. Make sure you understand your eligibility so you can discuss it productively with them. You can also direct them to up-to-date information sources.

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)

Under Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur), UK graduates are permitted to remain in the UK to set up a business. Applicants must be in the UK and be licensed by an Endorsing Body able to sponsor migrant students under Tier 4. This doesn't have to be the institution from which you graduated. Postdoctoral researchers sponsored under Tier 2 can also be sponsored by their employer under this category.

Places are limited to 20 per institution each year. Leave is initially granted for 12 months, with a possible extension to 24 months if the sponsor confirms progress.

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)

Applicants for Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) must be endorsed by a 'designated competent body' (for example, the Royal Society, the Arts Council England, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering) as a 'recognised' or 'emerging' leader in their field of expertise (science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts). There are 1,000 visas available through this arrangement per year.

Tier 2 (General)

Tier 2 allows you to work for an employer in the UK for up to five years. Employers must be registered sponsors – see the Home Office Register of Licensed Sponsors (Tiers 2 and 5) for a full list of sponsors.

The employer must refer to the UKVI codes of practice for sponsored workers and the appropriate policy guidance to check that job roles fit Tier 2 criteria. A job must have a particular skills level, a minimum salary of £20,800 for new entrants who are either under 26 years of age, are transferring from a Tier 4 visa, or have been hired through a recruitment process (from October 2016), or a salary in accordance with the relevant code of practice, whichever is higher.

The recruitment process may need to include a resident labour market test (RLMT) to show there is no one in the EEA who can do the job. However, if the applicant is switching into Tier 2 from Tier 4 (Student) within the UK, or if the role is on the Home Office Shortage Occupation List, there is an exemption from applying the RLMT. If the job is suitable, the employer issues the graduate with a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) reference number. The graduate must then apply for immigration permission under Tier 2 before their current permission to stay in the UK expires.

Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange)

This scheme is open to applicants switching from Tier 4 (Student) to undertake a period of professional training or work experience. A CoS is issued not by the employer, but by an overarching placement body who is a licensed Tier 5 sponsor. Leave is granted for 12 months, but can be extended to 24 months. See the full list of Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange Schemes.

Other relevant categories under the UK visa system

Doctorate Extension Scheme

This allows PhD students nearing the end of their studies to extend their Tier 4 visas for a further 12 months to seek skilled employment or experience in their field, or develop plans as an entrepreneur.

Other categories may be open to individuals such as entrepreneurs or investors as well as other Tier 5 visas. For full details contact UKVI.

Extending your student visa for further study

Immigration rules and procedures are often reviewed and changed so it's vital that you check the current requirements if you have to extend your Tier 4 (General) student visa for further study.

Whether you're applying for further study or employment, you must make a valid 'in time' application (that is, before your current permission to remain in the UK expires). Failure to do so will have severe implications, including losing rights of appeal and having an effect on future applications.

Written by Esther de Perlaky, The University of Warwick, 2016