If you’re an international student in the UK, there are a number of visa routes for you to consider that will allow you to remain in the country after you graduate.
Your UK post study visa options will depend largely on your circumstances and your plans for after you finish your course. For example, do you want to find a job or start a business in the UK, or do you want to return home and come back to the UK later?
It will be important to consider all of the options available to you, and if you do make an application, ensure that you meet all the eligibility criteria, have the correct documentation and follow the correct process, since refusal rates for points-based visas are high.
You will also need to ensure you factor in all the costs of making a Home Office application, such as the Immigration Health Surcharge, which you have to pay for each year of your grant of leave. Some visas will also require you to go through an endorsement process before you can apply for the visa, which can add time and cost to the process.
It is also your responsibility to avoid overstaying and ensure you do not let your visa expire before making an application to remain in the UK.
UK post-study visa options for international graduates
Under the current rules, international students could consider the following post-study visa options:
UK graduate route & post study work visa
International students in the UK may be eligible to apply under the Graduate route to extend their stay for up to two years after graduating with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or three years if studying a PhD.
The route is intended to open up the UK job market to international graduates and employers are expected to adjust their entry-level recruitment and graduate programmes to take full advantage of the new rules.
To be eligible, students will have to have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a UK higher education institution, and they must be able to evidence a clear and compliant immigration record. The visa is open to students of all subjects and disciplines and there is no cap on the number of post-study work visas available.
Graduates will be free to use the two (or three) years to find a job and to work, with no restrictions on the type or skill level of the role during this period of leave.
The Graduate route application costs £715. It is not possible to extend the Graduate visa, but you can apply for leave to remain under a different, longer-term visa category, such as finding sponsored work and switching to the Skilled Worker route.
Skilled worker visa
There continues to be no shortage of employers willing to sponsor graduates who bring specialist skills. The Skilled Worker Visa replaced the Tier 2 General visa in December 2020. It is open to individuals who attain the requisite number of points based on skill, language and salary requirements. You will also need to have a job offer from a licensed sponsor. You can find a list of those organisations with a sponsor licence on the government’s list of registered sponsors. Employers without a sponsor licence are able to apply for a licence to hire sponsored workers, provided they meet the eligibility and compliance criteria.
The Skilled Worker visa lasts five years – provided you continue to meet the conditions of your visa such as having sponsored employment – and it offers a direct route to UK indefinite leave to remain. You can also be accompanied in the UK by your dependants.
Start up visa
The Start Up visa allows you to switch in-country to set up your first business in the UK.
The visa lasts up to two years, at which point you will either have to apply to switch to another visa category, such as the Innovator visa, where you can continue to develop your business, or leave the country.
For the Start Up visa, applicants must first apply to be endorsed by an approved Home Office body, which includes certain universities and business accelerator groups. This involves demonstrating the business idea is viable by providing a comprehensive business case. Only with endorsement can you proceed with applying to the Home Office for the Start up visa.
If applying from inside the UK, it costs £508 per applicant, or £378 if applying from outside the UK.
Global Talent route
The Global Talent route is aimed at those who can evidence status as a leader or potential leader in one of the fields covered by the visa. These include:
- academia or research
- arts and culture
- digital technology
Global Talent visa holders do not need to have secured employment, nor do they need to be sponsored. Global talent applicants must either have been awarded a ‘prestigious prize’ – as specified in Appendix Prestigious Prizes’ – or secure endorsement from an approved institution before making the Home Office visa application.
The Global talent visa costs £623 to apply.
Scale up visa
Launched in August 2022, the Scale Up route is designed for high-growth employers to recruit international talent more easily. It is a new type of hybrid visa, which initially requires sponsorship for the first six months of employment, after which the employee can change employers or role without the need to be sponsored.
The Scale up visa lasts for two years and can lead to indefinite leave to remain.
Applications cost £715 and can be made from inside or outside the UK.
Global Business Mobility visas
Depending on your circumstances, such as being employed by an non-UK employer, you may need to look at the Global Business Mobility visas. These five visa categories are for specific types of workers coming to the UK to undertake specific, short-term work. These are:
- Graduate trainee visa
- Senior or specialist worker visa
- UK expansion worker visa
- Secondment worker visa
- Service supplier visa
Each visa has its own rules and requirement, although one common requirement is that the worker has to be sponsored by a qualifying employer.
Long-term relationship or family basis
If you met your partner while studying in the UK, you may be eligible to remain on the basis of your relationship. A number of options may be available to you based on your relationship to a family member or under the long-term relationship rules such as civil partnership and spouse visas. The rules are strict however to deter fraudulent applications, and eligibility will depend on your personal circumstances including meeting strict financial requirements.
Temporary work visas
There are a number of UK temporary work visas to consider, including the Creative Worker visa, which provide short-term permission to carry out certain types of work in the UK. Each visa has its own requirements and rules.
Youth Mobility scheme
Nationals of certain countries between the ages of 18 and 30 can apply under the Youth Mobility Scheme to come to the UK for up to two years. You must however apply from outside the UK.
High Potential Individual visa
The High Potential Individual visa is for graduates from non-UK institutions to come to the UK for up to two years, or three years with a PhD equivalent. It costs £715, with additional fees to check the application.
UK post study work visa FAQs
Who is eligible for post study work visa UK?
International graduates who have completed an undergraduate degree, or a Master's degree, or a PhD can apply under the Graduate route to remain in the UK on a short-term basis.
What is post study work visa in UK?
Eligible students can apply to remain in the UK for a further two years after graduating, or three years if they have a PhD. Graduates can use this period of leave to work or look for a job. There are no restrictions on the type of work that must be undertaken by PSW visa holders, and there is no cap on the number of PSW visas that can be issued.
Can you get PR in the UK after study?
Eligibility for UK indefinite leave to remain will depend on the individual being on a route that leads to ILR and meeting the ILR requirements. For example, if you apply for the PSW visa and then secure a sponsored job under the Skilled Worker route, you may become eligible for ILR after five years as a sponsored worker.
Last updated: 7 November 2022