Tier 4 to Tier 2: no more tears?

Blog for students
10 September 2019
29     5
  • First published 5 September 2019
  • Last updated 10 September 2019: section 3 added about the 1 October 2019 change to when a Tier 2 applicant can start work.

Securing your first graduate job can be difficult and stressful, especially if staying in the UK depends on it. Andrew Humphrey is feeling your pain, but he explains that recent changes mean that applying for the visa is getting easier for students.

It may not feel like it, but switching from a Tier 4 student visa to a Tier 2 work visa in the UK is easier and more straightforward now than it has ever been. 

Please do not misunderstand me. I know very well that applying for jobs, being interviewed and then being offered and accepting a job is a difficult process for any new graduate. It is especially stressful if your plan to stay and work in the UK depends on you getting that job and the attached visa sponsorship, and I blogged recently for UKCISA about some of the common problems with Tier 2 jobs and employers. I take my hat off to all students who can secure a graduate job with a Tier 2 sponsor, and I salute all the university Careers Advisers who support and guide you through the transition from student to worker.

But I am not a Careers Adviser. My area of expertise is the immigration side: your eligibility and opportunity to switch from your Tier 4 student visa to a Tier 2 visa for sponsored skilled work. And it is with this part of the process that there have been positive and welcome changes recently.

This blog post is just an update on these recent changes. For the full picture on switching to Tier 2, including eligible jobs, minimum salary and skill levels, see UKCISA's detailed guide to Tier 2.

There have always been some useful concessions for students switching to Tier 2 in the UK, compared to someone switching from another type of visa, or someone applying in their home country:

  • The minimum salary is £20,800 for those switching from Tier 4, £30,000 for everyone else.
  • The employer does not need to run the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) before issuing your Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). This is the test of whether there is a local worker who can do the job which is required for most Tier 2 applications from outside the UK, and for some applications from inside the UK, but not for someone switching from Tier 4. As it happens, a recent government news story calls the RLMT "outdated" and says it will be soon abolished completely.
  • The employer does not pay the £1000/year Immigration Skills Charge which is needed when someone applies outside the UK
  • Your CoS is over and above the employer's restricted allocation of CoS.

This year there have been three further changes which will make switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2 easier for many people. 

1. How soon you can apply

First, your window of opportunity for applying. PhD students have always been able to switch into Tier 2 after 12 months of study, but for other students until recently the earliest an employer could issue a CoS was the day your results were published. This often left students with only weeks or even days before their Tier 4 visa expired. So if the CoS was delayed or the job offer not yet finalised, they would lose their chance to apply in the UK with all the above advantages.

In January 2018 a change to the immigration rules moved this earliest date for issuing the CoS back in time from results day to the formal end date of the course, which was good. Then in March this year another change to the rules moved it back even further to 3 months before the formal end date of the course, which is even better. Most Tier 4 visas have an extra 4 months after the formal course end date -- what the Home Office calls the "post-study period" -- so this gives most people 7 months to obtain a CoS and make a Tier 2 application.

There is one scenario in which this change does not benefit you. If your job offer is conditional on your qualification, or on a specific result, your Tier 2 employer will probably still want to wait until your results are published before issuing the CoS. But that is about the requirements of the job, not the requirements of the Tier 2 visa.

2. Travelling before you apply

The second change is quite major, and not just for Tier 2 applications, but it has been slightly under the radar. It is not a change to the immigration rules but to the Tier 4 Policy Guidance which explains and interprets the rules.

For many years, people switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2 could not safely and confidently use their visa's 4-month (or 2-month or 6-month) post-study period to travel and re-enter the UK before making their Tier 2 application. Of course those who have already made a Tier 2 application cannot leave the Common Travel Area anyway while the application is pending, because that will withdraw their application, but even those who had not yet applied and who were in the post-study period could not safely travel and re-enter the UK either.

This is because a Border Force Officer could in theory not allow you to re-enter the UK using a Tier 4 visa for a course that was now finished. In practice it was often fine, but sometimes it wasn't. It was always very difficult to advise students in this situation, and depending who you asked there was a spectrum of advice from "don't risk it" to "it will be fine" via "it might be fine before graduation, but not after". UKCISA's advice was always the most cautious: if you were planning a Tier 2 application during the post-study period, most advisers would have said do not travel beforehand.

It wasn't just a problem of being refused entry. Even if you were admitted back into the UK, but as a Standard Visitor, that wouldn't help because visitors cannot switch to Tier 2. As a sidebar, the government's white paper on the proposed new post-Brexit immigration system for the UK from 1 January 2021 does include a proposal to allow some visitors to switch into skilled work but that's for the future.

So I am very happy to confirm that this annoying trap, which has been a thorn in the side of many generations of students and advisers, is now dead and gone. A welcome new section in the Tier 4 Policy Guidance called "After you have finished your studies" (pages 67-68 of the August 2019 update) confirms that

Once your sponsor has confirmed that your studies are complete, and you are therefore in your post-study period, you may do the following:

  • Enter and leave the UK
  • Work full-time in the UK, if your conditions of leave permit you to work
  • Study in the UK
  • Visit areas in the UK
  • Apply to remain in the UK under an appropriate alternative route (e.g. Tier 1 and Tier 2).

So now you can travel without worry during the post-study period and come back to the UK to make your Tier 2 application. I am not sure anyone needed the Home Office's permission to "visit areas of the UK" during the post-study period, but let's not be ungrateful for this welcome change.

When you re-enter on your Tier 4 visa during the post-study period, the Border Force Officer does still need to be satisfied that either you will be leaving the UK before your visa expires or "that you will submit an in-time application to extend your leave in the UK." It will be wise to carry in your hand luggage some evidence that you will be soon be making the Tier 2 application.

So when you get your dream job, and the employer agrees to sponsor you for a Tier 2 visa, maybe treat yourself to a holiday or a trip home.  As long as you come back on or before the end date of your Tier 4 visa, it really will be fine.

3. Starting work

Those who apply for Tier 2 after getting their results can start their Tier 2 job immediately. This is because Tier 4 leave that was applied for before 1 October 2019 includes a work condition that allows you to start a permanent job only if you apply for Tier 2 having "successfully completed" your course. 

While the Tier 2 rules were amended in January 2018 and April 2019 to allow someone who has not yet "successfully completed" their course to apply for Tier 2 (see section 1 above), the Tier 4 work rules about taking a permanent job were never adjusted accordingly. It means that someone who applies for Tier 2 before getting their results can only work on a temporary basis until their Tier 2 leave is granted. It seems that many employers are happy to arrange temporary contracts, but it does add some complication to hiring people under Tier 2 and it is generally very confusing for everyone.

Following some lobbying by international student advisers and UKCISA, the offending Tier 4 work condition will finally be changed from 1 October 2019. If you apply for a Tier 4 visa on or after that date, at the end of your course your work conditions will allow you to start a Tier 2 job as soon as you have made the Tier 2 application.

This change in the Rules does not retro-fit new work conditions for people who already have their Tier 4 leave, but it is possible that the Home Office does intend all current Tier 4 students to benefit. UKCISA is checking this with the Home Office, and when they have a response I will update and re-publish this blog post.


What has been your experience with the visa aspects of switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2? What else could the UK government do to improve the transition from Tier 4 to Tier 2? Leave a Comment below. 

Please do not post a Comment asking for advice about your individual situation or about any types of work visa other than Tier 2.  For advice queries, please see UKCISA's detailed guide to Working after Studies or contact the International Student Adviser at your institution or UKCISA's students' advice line.


Andrew Humphrey
 is a freelance student adviser and trainer. He tweets at @andrew_humphrey.





Name: * required
Your Comment: * required
05 September 2019
Hi Andrew,
Thanks for the post, it is really insightful.
My query is regarding another topic though:
Can an international student receive bursary for PGCE students?
06 September 2019
Thanks Dolapo, I am glad you found it useful. See Info & Advice > Working> Working after studies > Lawyers, architects, teachers
Robin Singh
05 September 2019
Are you sure, you can start your job soon after Tier 2 Visa Application ? I am assuming you should have visa stamped before i start !!
06 September 2019
I say you can *usually* start work after you apply, Robin. See Info & Advice > Working > Working after studies > Employment (Tier 2) > Starting work
Hamad Omar
05 September 2019
This is great news may be it will provide more opportunities for International students to study in UK. I am among the students who my visa application was refused in 2010.I got unconditional letter to study in UK.
06 September 2019
I hope so, Hamad. There is a perception that the UK does not want students to stay and work, and I understand why people may feel that way since Tier 1 Post Study Work was abolished in 2012. But I think the current position is more positive than people may think. Hence this blog post.
11 September 2019
Hi Andrew,
Thanks for the post! Regards the latest news about PSW coming back next year, I'm not sure if you know whether a PGCE course is also applicable under the new visa? It is at the same level as a master degree. But the government announcement says that students need to complete a 'degree' at UG level or above. Thank you!

11 September 2019
This blog post is specifically about switching to a Tier 2 visa. For other types of visa, see Info & Advice > Working > Working after studies.
11 September 2019
Hello am a bit confused here . currently on a student visa to expire next year can i apply for a Tier 2 without a CoS sponsor and those the 2 year visa apply to to students on such visa or just for students coming in in 2020
11 September 2019
You may be conflating several different types of work visa. See Working > Working after Studies for the different schemes.
11 September 2019
Hello Andrew,

it is very useful information thank you very much. The official Tier 2 document is very complicated. Can you please answer a question about the minimum permit salary for applying to this type of visa with my conditions? I am about finish my PhD and I am applying to jobs now ( I am in the UK with TIER 4 visa) the minimum salary requirement for me will be £20.300? also, it has to be a full-time job?


11 September 2019
Thank you Ivone, I am glad you found it useful. This website has a detailed guide to Tier 2 including about minimum salary. See Working > Working after studies > Tier 2 for sponsored skilled work .
11 September 2019
Thanks for explaining this tricky process. My question is: will PhD students coming to the end of their studies be allowed to take up the 2 years post study process?
11 September 2019
You are welcome. See my reply to Kam's question above.
Camilla Alfaro
11 September 2019
hi i recently graduated on August 2019 and I was wondering if the 2 post year study time also applies for me? Its been a hard time for me to find a job, most of them do not sponsor visas.. Do you think i could apply for a tier 2 visa without a sponsor

Thank you
11 September 2019
See my previous reply to Kam.
11 September 2019
Hi, this article was really helpful. I have to extend my tier 4 visa. I was supposed to graduate in 2020 but coz of a module I’ll be graduating in 2021. Since I’ll be applying for extension for 2020-2021, will I be able to get the benefit of the new rule ??
12 September 2019
Thanks Aerica, that's great that it was helpful to you. If you need individual advice, please contact your international student adviser.
12 September 2019
I am international student and i want to know
Will students who are applying for september intake 2019 will be eligible for two year psw?
Because i will graduate in 2020 so can i get benefit from it?
16 September 2019
See my previous reply to Kam above.
14 September 2019
Hello Andrew,

Thank you for the update. I just have a quick question. I am currently on tier 4 visa from January 2019 till January 2021 ,two years masters so do I am eligible for this 2 years work visa
Please advise
16 September 2019
The blog post is not about that, Rinka. It is about switching into Tier 2. See my previous reply to Kam above.
17 September 2019
Hi. How are you.
18 September 2019
Fine, thank you Hussain, and very happy that you have not posted a question about the Graduate route!
19 September 2019
Hi Andrew this is Mary, a postgraduate student at the university of glasgow. Your article is really helpful thank you.

I have an inquiry for you if you would kindly advice me on the following situation:

My tier 4 visa expires march 2020, I’m currently applying for some graduate schemes and other jobs that have a starting date of say July or June. Should I pass would my employers be able to issue me a tier 2 then wait till the start date, and if so can I travel back and forth with a tier 2 issued but without my work starting?

Would really appreciate your reply. Thanks
19 September 2019
Mary, please see the request above: "Please do not post a Comment asking for advice about your individual situation.... For advice queries, please see UKCISA's detailed guide to Working after Studies or contact the International Student Adviser at your institution or UKCISA's students' advice line."
Annie Jenkins
20 September 2019
This has got to be the best explained, most useful, helpful and insightful article I have seen on this topic. (And I feel like I have read them all) My tier 4 visa expires in 2 months, however I have a training contract secured for 2021 with a salary 2k below 30k the Resident labor test threshold and have been scouring the internet for how to overcome this obstacle.
21 September 2019
Thank you for the compliment, Annie. I am delighted you found it useful.