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Can I Switch from a Student Visa to a Work Visa When My Course Ends?

Having taken the bold decision to leave their home country to attend a UK university, then studying hard for months or years, many students will be considering their next steps. Every year, thousands of international students come to the end of their studies and remain to find employment. Securing a graduate role with a UK employer provides an excellent way to kickstart your career, allowing you to develop real-world experience and expertise. The question often on the minds of students who plan to stay is whether they are eligible to work in the UK and if so, the best route to secure the necessary immigration status.

Can I switch from Tier 4 to Tier 2?

Yes, the Home Office permits eligible students to make the switch from a Tier 4 study visa to a Tier 2 (General) work visa. To switch, students will need to meet a number of criteria in relation to the course of study, the type of role, and the salary.

Course of study

Students will need to complete their course with a licensed tier 4 sponsor within three months of applying for a Tier 2 visa, and hold an eligible qualification.

Qualifying courses include a:

  • UK bachelor’s degree,
  • UK master’s degree,
  • postgraduate certificate in education, or;
  • professional graduate diploma of education

The criteria are different for PhD students, who are only required to have completed 12 months of their study immediately before applying to switch from Tier 4 to Tier 2, and must have been sponsored by either:

  • a higher education provider listed on the Tier 4 register of sponsors as a ‘Tier 4 sponsor - track record’
  • an overseas higher education institution if you completed a short-term study abroad programme in the UK

The Home Office will not consider the following types of qualifications:

  • Foundation degrees;
  • Honorary degrees;
  • Qualifications awarded in the UK by overseas awarding bodies;
  • Qualifications undertook solely at an overseas campus of UK institutions;
  • Postgraduate certificates and diplomas (except PGCE/PGDE);
  • Professional qualifications (whether or not they are of an equivalent level) that are not degrees.

Role and salary

The skill and salary requirements must be met for the relevant skilled occupation code (SOC). It is important to note that there are two levels of salary for roles on the SOC; ‘new entrant’ and ‘experienced worker’. If you are switching from tier 4 to tier 2, you will need to use the ‘new entrant salary’ requirement. Most new entrant salaries are set at a minimum of £20,800, but other roles are higher, including for Ph.D. level research roles at £22,300.

Applying to switch from Tier 4 to Tier 2

The application to switch from Tier 4 to Tier 2 is completed online. One of the concerns many international students have when making the switch to a work visa is when they can apply. Given that it can take around two months to complete the visa application process, being able to apply only when you have received your results may leave it too late. Thankfully, in early 2019, the Home Office changed the rules allowing students to apply three months before their course ends. The Home Office guidance states that employers will not need to complete a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) if they are employing an international student who has completed, or is applying for leave to remain no more than three months before the expected completion date of their course. From the perspective of the employer, not having to carry out an RLMT is highly beneficial, as it provides considerable time and cost savings.

In order to apply, you will need to have an offer of employment from a licensed Tier 2 sponsor, who can request the issue of a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). The current Home Office guidance for employers’ states that “where the migrant was last granted leave as the partner of a Tier 4 migrant (student): you must apply for a restricted CoS for such migrants”. You will only be able to start working once your course is fully completed.

As part of the application, you will need to provide either a degree certificate, academic transcript or an academic reference on official headed paper of the institution showing:

  • your name; and
  • the course title and award; and
  • the course duration (except in the case of a degree certificate); and either
  • the date you completed the course, having sat all exams and presented all academic papers, or
  • the date you are expected to complete the course, which must be the expected date when all exams will have been taken and all academic papers submitted, or
  • confirmation of 12 months’ study if you are studying a Ph.D. course.

If you are studying towards a Ph.D., you may also need to provide an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate – it is recommended that you check the Home Office website to check before applying.

Application fees range from £409 to £1,408 depending on who is applying, where you are applying from, the duration of the visa, and whether it is for a shortage occupation role. You may also need to pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS) which will provide you access to the UK National Health Service should you require it. And finally, you will need to register your biometric information (fingerprints and photo) with your local UKVCAS office in order to get your biometric residence permit (BRP) – this cost £19.20.

Final words

Switching from a tier 4 to a tier 2 visa is a relatively straightforward process. Your employer and education provider will be able to help you through the process. The keys to success in making this switch are to prepare and plan early. Doing so will mean that you have time to resolve any issues which arise. We wish you the best of luck in your transition from your studies to your working life in the UK; you have a great adventure ahead of you.

Related Article: Switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2 Guidance for International Students

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