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Staying in the UK After Your Student Visa Expires (Formerly Tier 4)

If you are coming to the end of your studies and you plan to stay here for longer, you will need to understand the range of options available to you in the UK. The information available can be confusing and misleading (the main guidance document issued by the Home Office for international students is 107 pages long 1), but in this article, we will clearly explain the routes available to you. With this information, you can plot out your next move and decide whether you want to stay in the UK or move on.

What if your Student Visa expires in the UK?

If you allow your Student Visa to expire while you are still in the UK, without valid immigration leave, you will be classed by the Home Office as an overstayer. While many people believe this is a valid option, they are undoubtedly doing their future prospects in the UK significant harm. This is especially true if they want to stay in the UK for the long-term. If you ever need to apply for a different visa later on in life, overstaying your Student Visa will lead to your almost certain rejection. The Home Office takes a dim view as far as visa overstaying is concerned, and you should avoid it at all costs. As an overstayer, you also risk being removed from the UK. The bottom line here is that if you plan to stay in the UK, you must submit your application to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) before your current visa expires. Once you have done this, you can relax in the knowledge that you can stay legally in the UK until you have received a decision on your new application, even if your visa expires while waiting for a decision. If you plan to leave the UK, you will need to do so before your visa expires.

In most cases, your study visa will last for the duration of your course of study. For courses at degree level, this can be for up to 5 years. For courses below degree level, Student Visas are normally granted for 2 years.

What are the options for staying in the UK after a Student Visa?

At the end of a Student Visa, you will need to:

  • Extend your current Student Visa
  • Switch to a different visa, or;
  • Leave the UK

Student Visa extension

For those who wish to continue their studies and move on to a post-graduate (i.e. Masters or PhD) qualification, the Student Visa offers you the opportunity to extend your studies. You still need to keep within the eligibility criteria for the visa, but as long as you satisfy the requirements, you will be able to take on a new course and extend your study.

To make a successful Student Visa extension application, you will need to:

  • Be in the UK
  • Hold a current valid (i.e. not expired) Student Visa or a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa
  • Have an unconditional offer of a place on a course with a licensed student sponsor
  • Have a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) for your new course of study
  • Meet the ‘academic progress requirement’ (see below)

To show you meet the academic progress requirement, you will need to show in your application that your new course is either:

  • At a higher academic level than the course you are just about to complete, or;
  • At the same level as the course you are about to complete, but it is related to that course or your career aspirations (the rules state it must be degree level or above at a Higher Education Provider), or;
  • Part of a medicine, dentistry or medical science course that you took under your current Student Visa.

You can make your extension application online up to 3 months before your new course of study starts, assuming you have received your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). You will need to pay the application fee of £475 and also the healthcare surcharge in advance in order to cover your stay in the UK. You should then receive your Student Visa extension within 8 weeks, allowing you to continue with your studies in the UK.

Switching from Student Visa to a graduate visa (known as PSW visa)

On 1st July 2021, the Home Office opened the new Graduate visa scheme (also known as a post-study work or PSW visa). The new UK graduate visa allows overseas students who have completed a degree or post-graduate course in the UK to remain in the UK for two years. Those completing a PhD or equivalent qualification can stay for up to three years. The Graduate visa is intended to provide graduates with the reassurance that they can stay while they find suitable work to kick-start their careers.

With a Graduate visa, you will be able to:

  • Work (you will be able to work in most jobs in the UK)
  • Seek employment
  • Become self-employed
  • Continue living in the UK with your dependant partner and children
  • Undertake unpaid voluntary work
  • Travel abroad and return to the UK freely

You will be eligible for a Graduate visa in the UK as long as you:

  • Are applying from within the UK;
  • Have an existing Student Visa or Tier 4 Student Visa, and;
  • Have successfully completed a bachelor’s degree or a post-graduate degree in the UK
  • Completed your course while on a valid Student Visa
  • Studied your course for at least 12 months or the full length of your course, whichever is shorter.

Applicants must have been on a course of study with an approved education provider with a track record of sponsorship compliance. A list of all education providers that meet this requirement is available on the Home Office website 2. You will need to pay the Graduate visa application fee of £700 and also the healthcare surcharge in advance in order to cover your stay in the UK.

Switching from a Student Visa to a Skilled Worker visa

Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to skip the Graduate visa process entirely and just apply for a Skilled Worker visa. The advantage of a Skilled Worker visa over a Graduate visa is that it provides a route to settlement after 5 years. To make a successful application for a Skilled Worker visa, you will need:

  • A job offer from a licensed sponsor in the UK
  • A Certificate of Sponsorship
  • To meet the minimum salary requirement (between 70% and 90% of the going rate 3 for your job if your salary is at least £20,480 per year and you are a recent graduate)

You will not be able to switch to a Skilled Worker visa, however, if you are currently on a short-term study visa. The application fee to switch to a Skilled Worker visa is £704 per person for up to 3 years and £1,220 if over 3 years. This is reduced if your job is on the shortage occupation list 4.

Switching from a Student Visa to a Spouse Visa

You may also be able to switch to a Spouse Visa if you are married to an eligible person. An eligible person is a British citizen, a person who has gained Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK or someone who has either refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK. If you are in this position, you can simply switch visa routes after getting married and will no longer be subject to the same controls that you would be under a Student Visa. If you would like to discuss the spouse visa in more detail, please get in touch by calling us on 020 3744 2797, and our team can help.

Switching from Student Visa to other UK visas

Switching to a different visa means that you can apply in the UK without needing to leave the country. It also allows you to stay in the UK while your application is being processed, no matter how long this takes. The rules on switching to other visas in the UK have been relaxed in recent years, meaning that there are fewer restrictions on which visas can be switched and which cannot. As a result, there are several other visas you can consider switching to from a Student Visa, these include the:

The eligibility criteria you need to meet will depend on the type of visa you apply for. For example, if you wish to apply for a Start-up visa, you will need to develop a business plan for an innovative business idea and have this endorsed by an approved endorsing body. If you plan to apply as an investor, you will need to show that you have at least £2m in investment

How can Reiss Edwards help?

We have a wealth of experience helping students to settle in the UK and ultimately gain citizenship. If you need any help to understand your options at the end of your Student Visa, please get in touch. Our experienced immigration Solicitors will be happy to listen to your circumstances and goals for your future in the UK. We will then explain all of your available options and help you to narrow down the best route to suit your needs. We can also handle all aspects of your visa application, ensuring you have the very best chance of success.

References:

1 Home Office: Student and Child Student

2 GOV.UK: Register of licensed sponsors: students

3 GOV.UK: Skilled Worker visa: going rates for eligible occupations

4 GOV.UK: Skilled worker visa: shortage occupations

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