Working after studies

Last modified: 16 October 2020

There are some upcoming changes and key dates for students who want to work in the UK after studies. We will be incorporating the changes into the information on this page as the details become available, but the headlines are:

  • The Tier 2 (General) route for sponsored skilled work will close to new applicants on 31 December 2020, and will be replaced the next day by the new Skilled Worker route for all non-UK, non-Irish nationals. The changeover from Tier 2 (General) to Skilled Worker includes some changes, mostly beneficial and helpful for students who wish to work after studies
  • 31 December 2020 is also the deadline for EEA and Swiss nationals to move to the UK under their right of free movement under EU law. They can secure their ongoing right to work by applying under the Brexit - EU Settlement Scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021. Those who arrive on or after 1 January 2021 will be subject to immigration control and will need visas for study and work
  • In summer 2021 (actual date yet to be confirmed) the new 2-year Graduate immigration route is due to open. Students who are due to graduate in 2021 and currently distance learning outside the UK due to the pandemic will need to return to the UK for their last semester, deadline 6 April 2021, in order to be eligible under the Graduate route. 
  • The current Doctorate Extension Scheme is expected to close and merge with the Graduate route, and  PhD graduates will get 3 years' permission under the graduate route, not two years. 
  • Separate from visa matters, but overlaying all of them, the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic is severely affecting the UK's economy, including employment and recruitment. The situation has been widely covered in the British media, and a panel of current international students was interviewed for "The Covid Generation", a BBC World Service podcast broadcast on 31 May 2020.

While we are waiting for immigration rules and related guidance for Graduate and Skilled worker routes, see the government guidance "New immigration system: what you need to know" and the "UK point-based immigration system: further details statement", published on 13 July 2020.  You can also see guidance aimed at employers, published on 24 September 2020.

This page is about the options for switching within the UK from Tier 4 to a work visa. We also have separate information for those who want to work between the end of their studies and the end of their Tier 4 visa: see Work when you are no longer studying.

Within the information about each scheme, you will find links to the relevant Immigration Rules, guidance for applicants and for Home Office caseworkers, and the appropriate application forms. If you are an international PhD student, there is also an immigration toolkit available to read on the website.  

Under many of the work schemes, your spouse or civil partner, unmarried or same sex partner and children can apply to stay in the UK with you, or join you here. All immigration applications normally include an immigration health surcharge

If you want to discuss your eligibility for a specific scheme or if you need further advice, an International Student Adviser or a Careers Adviser at your institution may be able to advise you further, if they have expertise in immigration schemes for workers. For schemes sponsored by an employer or other body, the sponsor itself will normally be the best source of advice. Some law centres, and other advice centres have immigration specialists who will provide some basic advice free of charge. Some private solicitors also specialise in immigration law, although they will charge you a fee for their advice. We have further information on seeking advice here.


  • These are only the options which allow you to apply in the UK. There are also Other Options for which you will need to apply in the country where you live.
  • Check the requirements of the specific work or job, as well as the requirements of the scheme. For example, while some schemes in theory allow you to apply before you have completed your course and obtained your qualification, the employer's job specification may require the qualification.
  • To protect your immigration status, you must apply before your current immigration permission expires. 
  • If your fees and living costs have been been sponsored by a government or international scholarship agency for your studies, most of the schemes require that you obtain their written consent before you apply.

Graduate route ("post-study work")

Last modified: 16 October 2020

The government announced on 11 September 2019 that there will be a new Graduate immigration route from summer 2021, similar to the previous Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) scheme which ended in April 2012. This route will provide international students with the opportunity to stay in the UK to live and work, or to look for work, after they graduate.

The Home Office released a more detailed fact sheet about their plans for the Graduate immigration route on 14 October 2019. This and the "UK points-based immigration system: further details statement", released on 13 July 2020, include everything that is currently known about how the Graduate route will work.

The specific start date for the scheme has not been announced, only that it will be in summer 2021.

The main points are:

  • The route is for students who will complete a degree in or after the summer of 2021 and who hold a Tier 4 or Student visa at the time they apply.
  • Study must be undertaken in the UK, with a concession for people who have been distance learning outside the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to be eligible, such students must return to the UK for their last semester, by a deadline of 6 April 2021. For details of this concession see "Coronavirus (COVID-19): Student sponsors, migrants and short-term students", page 16.
  • Undergraduate and master's degree students will be able to apply to stay for two years.
  • PhD students will be able to apply to stay for three years.
  • Graduates who apply do not need to be sponsored, but the degree must be awarded by a Higher Education provider that is listed on the Register of Student Sponsors as a "Student Sponsor - Track Record".
  • It will not be possible to extend this type of immigration permission but it will be possible to switch into another route, if you can meet the requirements.
  • There will not be a requirement to show you have a certain amount of money (known as the 'maintenance requirement').
  • There will be an application fee and you will need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).

We are still waiting for full information on the scheme, and the start date, and we will update this page as soon as there are further full details. In the meantime, you can also read our news items that cover what we know so far:

EEA and Swiss nationals, and family

Last modified: 02 October 2020

The UK has left the European Union but for now the rights of European Economic Area and Swiss nationals and their family members to work in the UK continue. For full details, see our guide to your Basic residence rights.

EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who are living in the UK should apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. Settled status and pre-settled status allows you to work in the UK without restrictions. See Brexit - EU Settlement Scheme.

European Union nationals who come to the UK after 1 January 2021 will be subject to immigration control. See The UK's points-based immigration system: policy statement published on 19 February 2020.


Tier 2: sponsored skilled work

Last modified: 15 October 2020

The Tier 2 route will close to new applications on 31 December 2020, and will be replaced by a very similar new Skilled Worker route from 1 January 2021. We are analysing the information about the Skilled Worker route that the government has released so far, and we will update this page with the details soon. Meanwhile see the links to the government's guidance and announcements at the top of this page.

This section summarises the Tier 2 (General) route for skilled employment which is primarily aimed at those who are applying in the UK to ‘switch’ from Tier 4 (General) to Tier 2 (General). Tier 2 also includes routes for Intra-company transfers (those who are employed by a multi-national company outside the UK which has a UK branch), Sportspersons, and Ministers of Religion. For full details of these routes, see the Home Office's information.

The job market in the UK is competitive and this has not been made easier by Coronavirus. You may find it a challenging period to search for a job and you might find yourself making preparations to leave the UK. It is important to read the Tier 2 policy guidance before you apply. Your employer will have checked and confirmed your eligibility for Tier 2 sponsorship before issuing the Certificate of Sponsorship, but you need to check for yourself that you meet all the requirements. The information below will be helpful, and you can also get advice from the employer and/or from an immigration lawyer who specialises in Tier 2 immigration applications. The international student adviser at your higher education provider specialises in student immigration applications and is highly unlikely to offer one-to-one advice on Tier 2 applications.

Our September 2019 blog post Tier 4 to Tier 2: no more tears? looks at some recent changes that have made the logistics of switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2 more straightforward.

You can also switch into Tier 2 without leaving the UK if you have or were last granted leave under be in the UK under as the partner of a Tier 4 migrant. Tier 1 migrants, those under the Startup or Innovator scheme, and people with some other work-related immigration statuses can also apply in the UK to switch into Tier 2. If in doubt, speak to your employer. If you have immigration permission in a different category, you will need to leave the UK and apply for entry clearance to come to the UK under Tier 2.

For Tier 4 dependant partners and for anyone applying from outside the UK there are some extra issues or requirements for both the applicant and the employer. These can include a restricted certificate of sponsorship (CoS), the Resident Labour Market Test, the Immigration Skills Charge, and whether the job is considered a PhD level job or a shortage occupation. We have explained all these matters at the end of this section. The Home Office website has details of how to apply outside the UK. You can access the online application form here.

Employers and vacancies

Skill level

Wage level

Maintenance, English language skills

Studies sponsored by a government or scholarship agency

Your course and your Student sponsor

Travelling and re-entering the UK

Starting work

Family, settlement

Restricted certificate of sponsorship

Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT)

Shortage occupations, PhD level jobs

Immigration Skills Charge (ISC)

Criminal record certificate 





Doctorate Extension Scheme

Last modified: 16 October 2020

This scheme is designed to give students who have almost finished their PhD or other doctorate qualification an additional 12 months of Tier 4 (General) immigration permission in which to look for and start work in the UK.

Information about this scheme is available in the Tier 4 policy guidance

The university or college where you are studying for your doctorate must be a Tier 4 sponsor. It must also be a recognised body or a body in receipt of public funding as a higher education institution.  If in doubt, ask your college or university if it meets this requirement.

You can only apply in the UK under this scheme. You must be a doctoral candidate with current Tier 4 immigration permission. This means you must be studying for a PhD qualification or one of the doctorate qualifications identified in Annex 3 of the Tier 4 policy guidance as 'doctorates'. Some students may be studying part-time doctorate courses under Tier 4 (see Part-time postgraduate courses). As of 10 January 2019, such students are also eligible to make an application for the doctorate extension scheme from within the UK if they can meet the requirements. Unfortunately, students studying research Master's degrees listed in Annex 3 of the Tier 4 policy guidance are not eligible to apply under this scheme.

If you do not currently have Tier 4 immigration permission, you may consider getting immigration permission as a Tier 4 student so that you can apply later under the doctorate extension scheme. You should seek advice about all your options before doing this, as it will not always be in your best interests to change to Tier 4 leave, particularly if your current immigration status can lead to settlement. Remember, too, that only people with certain types of immigration permission can make an application to change to the Tier 4 student category from inside the UK. 

From summer 2021, the Doctorate Extension Scheme will merge into the new Graduate Immigration Route under which PhD graduates can apply for 3 years' permission in the UK to work.

When you can apply



Working, contact with sponsor

Options afterwards, settlement

Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur

Last modified: 03 September 2019

The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur route is now closed to new applicants. See the similar Start-up scheme which has replaced it.

The information below is for people who already have immigration permission under Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur, or who have a pending application. 


Contact with endorsing body

Extending your stay, settlement


Start-up and innovator schemes

Last modified: 16 October 2020

The Start-up scheme is aimed at people, including those with Tier 4 leave, who wish to establish a business in the UK, and who have a business plan endorsed by a Home Office-approved endorsing body. It has replaced Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur. 

The Start-up scheme has a broader remit than the Graduate Entrepreneur scheme. Our information here is aimed at those with Tier 4 leave who wish to switch into the Start-up scheme, and those switching in from the Graduate Entrepreneur scheme. You can also apply if you have Tier 2 leave or if you are in the UK as a visitor undertaking permitted prospective entrepreneur activities.

The full rules and eligibility for this scheme are contained in Appendix W of the immigration rules. The Home Office website has a guide to applying for the Start-up scheme and they have published guidance for Home Office staff assessing applications

The separate Innovator scheme replaced the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category and is aimed at experienced businesspeople seeking to establish an innovative business in the UK. You cannot switch from Tier 4 straight to the Innovator scheme within the UK, but you can switch if you hold leave as a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur. Applicants must meet investment fund criteria, require endorsement from an independent endorsing body (this includes qualifying Higher Education institutions from 4 June 2020) and meet other eligibility requirements which are contained in full in Part W6 of Appendix W to the Immigration Rules. For details of the Innovator scheme, see the guide to the Innovator scheme on the Home Office website.

The below information is specific for the Start-up scheme.

Endorsing body, business plan

Qualification, knowledge of English

Switching from Tier 4

Switching from Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur 


Running your business, and other work 

Contact with endorsing body


Extending your stay

Students' union sabbatical officers

Last modified: 26 October 2018

You can stay in the UK under Tier 4 if you have been elected to a full-time post as a students' union sabbatical officer at an education establishment where you are registered as a student. Tier 4 also covers you if you are elected to a post with the National Union of Students.

You will have to meet the requirements for Tier 4 (General) students. However, the Home Office does not expect you to study during this period. The Home Office should give you permission to be in the UK for 12 months which you can apply to extend up to a two year maximum if you are re-elected.

You can find detailed information for you, the students' union where you are going to work as a sabbatical officer and your Tier 4 sponsor in Student union sabbatical officers.

Lawyers, architects, teachers

Last modified: 16 October 2020

If you are eligible for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility or UK ancestry schemes you can apply for that scheme in your home country then come back to the UK and work. Someone who is in the UK as a dependant or (from summer 2021) under the proposed new 2-year Graduate Immigration Route can also work.

These types of work visa have very few restrictions on the work you can do. You can work as a lawyer or an architect, you can undertake teacher training and you can work as a teacher.




Doctors, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists

Last modified: 16 October 2020

Doctors and dentists

If you have Tier 4 or Student permission, you can only work as a postgraduate doctor or dentist in training if your permission is sponsored by the Foundation Programme. 

To join the Foundation Programme you need a valid confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) from Health Education England. You must also have a recognised UK degree in medicine or dentistry from a UK institution and you must have had Tier 4 (General) or Student permission for the final academic year and at least one other academic year of those studies. For more information, see our guide to applying under Tier 4 (General).

If you have leave as the dependant of someone with lTier 4, Tier 2, Tier 1 or Tier 5 permission, paragraph 319D(b)(iii) of the immigration rules confirms that you can undertake work as a doctor or dentist in training under some circumstances. For further advice, speak directly to the Postgraduate Deanery or NHS Trust offering the position.


Optometrists who wish to undertake pre-registration training can apply in the UK to switch from Tier 4 (General) or Student permission to the Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) scheme. See further information on provided by the College of Optometrists

This is currently the only exception to the rule that applications under all parts of the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) tier must be made outside the UK. 

If you are eligible for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility or UK ancestry scheme, or you are in the UK as someone's dependant, you can work with very few restrictions, including work as an optometrist. From summer 2021 this will also apply to those who are in the UK under the proposed new 2-year Graduate Immigration Route.



Pharmacists are covered by Tier 2. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society no longer offers sponsorship under Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) for the Pharmacy Professional Sponsorship Scheme (PPSS).

If you are eligible for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility or UK ancestry scheme, or you are in the UK as someone's dependant, you can work with very few restrictions, including work as an optometrist. From summer 2021 this will also apply to those who are in the UK under the proposed new 2-year Graduate Immigration Route.

Other options

Last modified: 09 July 2020

There are other visa options for people in very specific situations. Most of them can only be applied for outside of the UK, in your home country. There are two exceptions, which can be applied for in the UK:

  • Turkish workers: Turkish nationals who have been employed in the UK. Those who have been lawfully self-employed while studying in the UK (for example under the Doctorate Extension Scheme) can also apply.

  • Investors:  people with at least £2 million to invest in the UK

All other options must be applied for outside of the UK, in your home country:

  • Global Talent visa for those who are internationally recognised or likely to become world leaders in arts and culture, humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and medical science research, engineering or digital technology. Applicants must be endorsed by a designated body. Research Councils UK can work with the designated bodies to help you apply under this scheme if you are receiving a relevant Research Council fellowship. The Global Talent visa replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa is February 2020.
  • Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme): A 2-year visa that allows both work and study, after which you must leave the UK. You must be aged between 18 and 30 and a passport holder of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea or Taiwan. It is also available to British Overseas Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens and British Nationals (Overseas).

    The Home Office's guidance on where to apply for a visa says that applications for Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) can be made in any country (outside of the UK) where you are legally present. However, this appears to be an over-simplification of some more specific provisions in paragraph 28A of the immigration rules. Paragraph 28A and the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) application form both say that a Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) application will only be accepted in a country (outside of the UK) where you have permission to live for more than 6 months.

  • UK ancestry visa: Commonwealth citizens who intend to work in the UK. You must be aged 17 or over and prove that a grandparent was born in the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, or on a British-registered ship or aircraft. You are also eligible if a grandparent was born in the Republic of Ireland before 31 March 1922.

  • Exceptional talent:  those who are internationally recognised or likely to become world leaders in arts and culture, humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and medical science research, engineering or digital technology. Applicants must be endorsed by a designated body. Research Councils UK can work with the designated bodies to help you apply under this scheme if you are receiving a relevant Research Council fellowship.

Case studies

Last modified: 15 March 2018

Yang - Tier 2

Ashlesh - Tier 2

Shen - Tier 2

Julie - Tier 2

Nigerian graduate - Doctorate extension scheme

Ge Zheng - Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)

Juli - Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)