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Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain

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An Introduction to Working in the UK: Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to remain

Part 1 of our guide to getting a job in the UK as an international student. Learn everything you need to know about Tier 2 Visas, work permits and even how many international students convert from a Tier 4 to a Tier 2 Visa every year.

Who is this for?

You want to get a job in the UK as an international student and don’t know where to start.

You don’t know about:

  • UK Work Visas
  • How many students get to work after they finish their studies
  • Other Visas you can work on in the UK
  • Whether you can work on a Tier 4 Visa

This is guide is useful whether you are:

  • Thinking about studying in the UK
  • Arriving in the UK soon
  • Studying in the UK now and starting to look for work

How do I get a work permit in the UK?

If you have a passport from a country outside the EU (28 countries who allow their citizens to move freely between borders) and the EEA (see all countries below)

You need a work permit to work in the UK. This allows foreign nationals to work in another country legally.

Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English

Type  “work permit UK” into Google and you will find the UK government website for work visas.

Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English

There are lots of different types of work permit, but which one is right for you?

What is a Tier 2 Visa?

To work in the UK long term, you would need a Tier 2 Visa, called a General work visa (Tier 2)

To get a Tier 2 Visa you need to meet 2 criteria.

1) Someone to have offered you a skilled job in the UK.

HELP: What do you mean by “skilled”?

“Skilled” means you need a job which the UK government says requires a bachelor’s degree. You can find every job on the list in this enormous table know as the “Immigration Rules Appendix J: codes of practise for skilled work”

If you want to know which jobs apply to you. Look at Table 2 – Occupations skilled to Regulation Qualifications Framework(RQF) level 6 and above.

2) Be from outside the EEA and Switzerland

Who gives you a Tier 2 Visa? How can you find them?

The company who gives you a job applies for a Tier 2 Visa for you. They are known as your sponsor. The UK government gives them a “license” to sponsor Tier 2 Visas.

The company would give you a Certificate of Sponsorship.

HELP: What is a “Certificate of Sponsorship

A Certificate of Sponsorship or Cos, is a record of your personal details, the job you have been offered and your employer.

You use this Certificate of Sponsorship to fill in some paperwork, and get your Biometric’s Card, which allows you to enter and leave the UK freely, and tells UK Border Agents that you are registered to live and work in the UK.

You wouldn’t apply to the UK government directly for a Tier 2 Visa, and you wouldn’t pay for one.

BEWARE: There are numerous scams where individuals and companies promise to be able to give a Tier 2 Visa for a sum of money; anywhere from £5,000- £50,000. This is illegal and should be avoided. Even if the company does give you a Visa, they could have their license removed if the Home Office finds out.

How do I find companies that can sponsor a Tier 2 Visa?

Companies that sponsor UK work permits can be found on the Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsorship license list.

An incredibly long and boring, 2,000+ page PDF which is updated everyday by the UK government.

Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English
Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English

As of September 2019, there were over 30,000 companies that can sponsor people for Tier 2 and 5 Visas in the UK.

The Tier 2 and 5 Sponsorship list is difficult to use, luckily since 2016 a few companies now make it much easier to use.

  • UK Tier Sponsors: An interactive and fully sort-able Tier 2 list. Sort by industry, date added and location.
  • Student Circus: Student job board showing only companies that sponsor.
  • Target Jobs: The UK government run graduate jobs’ site, now allows you to filter employers by whether they provide work permits or not.

NOTE: Just because a company appears on the Tier 2 and 5 sponsorship list does not mean they will sponsor you. It ONLY means they can sponsor if they want to.

How long does it take to get a Tier 2 Visa?

This could be 2 different questions.

1) How long will it take to get a company to offer you a skilled job and be willing to sponsor you for a Tier 2 Visa?

In 7 years of coaching, I’ve had clients take as little as 2 weeks (very rare) and as long as 18 months. The average is around 4 months of intensive action dedicated towards job hunting.

You can only apply for a Tier 2 Visa at most 3 months before the start date of your job.

So, if you job starts on say September the 1st , the earliest you can apply for a Visa is June the 1st .

2) Once you get a job offer, how long does it take for your Visa to be processed.

The UK government say it 3 weeks to decide here.

In my experience, as someone who employed international students, you can give a Cos immediately if you have them (companies are allocated Cos each year, based on their requirements) and big companies may take 3 months, as they want to “batch” Cos, which means they assign many Certificates of Sponsorship in one go.

How many Tier 2 Visas are given out to international students each year?

From Home Office data we can easily calculate how many international students on Tier 4 Visas go on to get a Tier 2 Visa. Using the Visa Extensions data set, and the “Why do people come to the UK? To Study” data set

Gives us the following table:

Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English

So, the number of Tier 4 to Tier 2 visa conversation is at worst 2.5%, at best based on inference and personal experience 5%.

Hopefully this will improve with new legislation allowing students 2 years to find full time work after their studies.

We also know that:

  • Not all students studying in the UK want to work in the UK
  • Most will not have the information or skills to apply in time

So, your chances are greatly improved if you understand how to incrementally improve your chances of success at every stage.

HELP: How can I find out more about international student statistics and news?

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) represents international students in the UK, and regularly compiles statistics and helpful articles.

How much do I need to get paid to get a Tier 2 Visa?

You may have heard you need to be paid £30,000 a year to get a Tier 2 Visa in the UK. This doesn’t apply to students, as you are counted as a “new entrant to the labour market”

HELP: What does “new entrant” mean?

This means, that you are a newly graduated young person, who has never entered the UK work force before as a professional, so the salary you will be paid will be lower. As opposed to an experienced worker.

The Home Office say, under Appropriate Salary that it should be:



The “appropriate rate” for the job.

We can see the 2 separate salaries for a “experienced worker” and “new entrant” in our giant table of job codes we saw earlier in the example of a solicitor:

Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English

There are 2 different salaries, one for a “New entrant” and another for an “Experienced worker”

As an international student you would “switch” from a Tier 4 Visa to a Tier 2 Visa.

Counting as a “new entrant” meaning you only need a salary of £20,800. Or whatever is the appropriate salary for that job.

A great blog explaining the Tier 4 to Tier 2 switch can be found at the UKCISA Blog.

How long does a Tier 2 Visa last for?

A Tier 2 Visa can last for a maximum of 5 years and 14 days, and then 6 years on extension.

For most students, your Tier 2 Visa would last 3 years, the length of a graduate training contract, if you work at a large company in the Times Top 100 graduate employers for example.

HELP: What is a graduate training contract?

A graduate training contract is the contract given by large employers to new graduates, they normally last 3 years, to cover the duration of their training. The Tier 2 Visa can then be renewed.

When do UK companies normally hire graduates?

You have 3 types of intakes.


UK graduate recruitment “busy” season is September to December.

Most large companies will open graduate applications, and close them when they are full or by December at the latest.

Companies will be hiring for the following year. So, companies hiring in September 2020 will want people to start in September 2021.


Some companies have what is called “rolling recruitment” meaning they can hire people to start immediately.


A few companies have Spring intakes like PwC where they hire graduates to start in March/ April.

Traditionally students start looking for jobs once their degrees have finished in June/July.

IMPORTANT: As an international student your start date must be AT LEAST 3 months in advance, as that is the minimum time you can apply for a Tier 2 Visa early.

How long do I have to work before I can live in the UK?

If you want to stay in the UK, and have the freedom to work in whatever job they like, you don’t need to become a British Citizen, you want Permanent Residence (PR) Also known as Indefinite Leave to Remain.

To convert from a Tier 2(General) Visa to a Permanent Residence Card, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • you have a Tier 2 (General) visa
  • you’ve been living and working in the UK for 5 years and spent no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 months (‘continuous residence’)
  • your employer (sponsor) still needs you for your job – they’ll need to provide a document confirming this
  • your job pays £35,800 or more (unless you’re exempt from the ‘minimum earnings threshold’)
  • you get paid the relevant salary listed in the Codes of Practice

Basically, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain after 5 years of working in the UK under a Tier 2 Visa.

IMPORTANT: You need to still be employed when you apply for PR. Once you are accepted for Indefinite Leave to Remain you are free to leave.

Working in the UK on other types of Visas

Can I work on other types of Visas?

Yes. Let’s look at the 5 different types of Visas.

Tier 5 Visa

This is a short-term work visa. A Tier 5 Visa lasts a maximum of 24 months and cannot be extended further.

There are 2 types you can apply for:

  • Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange Scheme
  • Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme


Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange Scheme

In this scheme, a sanctioned list of companies can provide Tier 5 sponsorship to non-EEA students. You can find a list of these companies here.

There are currently 60+ providers, all very specialised and relating to a specific industry or function, like the Bar Council arranging internships for barristers in training.

Tier 5 Visa from government authorised exchange schemes can last up to 2 years, but this is generally used for training purposes.

Most Visas purely for work experience will last 6-12 months.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme

This scheme allows you to work anywhere in the UK, by yourself, providing you meet the following criteria:

You can apply for a Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa if you’re aged 18 to 30 and you’re from:

Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English

If you see your country there then you can apply online. Each country have a set number of Visas they can give out.

Apply here.

You may also need to check your home countries restrictions on the number of Visas they give out. Taiwan for example runs a lottery once a year, as they always have more applicants than Tier 5 youth mobility scheme visas.

Here is a brilliant in-depth article from Brit Bound covering everything you need to know about the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.

Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa

This Visa is for leaders and future leaders in major fields. Though it has been heavily criticised, as out of the 2,000 visas available each year, only 600 were given due to the high standards set for acceptance.

The UK’s MAC (Migration Advisory Committee) who advise the government on immigration and visas amongst other areas, said it “does not work well”.

The system is set to be replaced in February 2020; however, it will still be limited to those who are leaders or emerging leaders in their fields, and their application needs to be certified by one of the following professional bodies:

  • The Royal Society, for science and medicine
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering, for engineering
  • The British Academy, for humanities
  • Tech Nation, for digital technology
  • Arts Council England, for arts and culture
  • British Fashion Council, for fashion
  • Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), for architecture
  • Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT), for film and television

Start-up Visa

For those without the funds, you could start up your own business in the UK while at University and find someone else to fund it for you, that’s where the Start Up Visa comes in. The Start Up Visa was previously known as the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa.

Similarly, to the Innovator Visa, you need to have a solid idea which is:

  • a new idea – you cannot join or invest in a business that is already trading
  • innovative – you must have an original business idea which is different from anything else on the market
  • viable, with potential for growth

You can be endorsed by a business organisation or a University, and you don’t need to invest your own money.

See the full list of 35+ business organisations and 110+ Universities here.

Innovator Visa

For those who want to start a business in the UK the Innovator Visa may be for you. Previously known as the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa.

You do need a minimum of £50,000 to invest in your own or someone else’s business idea.

Your business idea must be endorsed by a professional body. Currently there are 35+ firms, you can find a full list of them here.


Can I work on a Tier 4 Visa?

Yes, Tier 4 Visa holders can work 20 hours during term time, and full-time during University holidays and breaks in between terms.

The University of Manchester provides a great PDF here.

Or read the guidelines from the University of Cambridge here.

The Home Office provides the following table as Guidance.

Working in the UK: From Tier 2 Visas to Indefinite Leave to Remain Job Ready English

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I have the right to work in the UK?

Many students get confused when they fill out a job application. One a Tier 4 Visa you have the right to work 20 hours during term times, and full time in the holidays.

This does not mean you have the right to work in the UK for a full-time job.

Basic test, if you have a Tier 4 Visa, you DO NOT have the right to work in the UK FULL TIME.

How many international students end up working in the UK after their studies?

As of 2018, we know just over 6,000 Tier 4 Visa holders switched over to a Tier 2 Visa, however this number could be greater if we include out of country Tier 2 Visa applications.

As a percentage of all international students coming to study in the UK each year, that is about 2.5%

Can my spouse get a Visa as well if I get a Tier 2?

Yes, you can find more information about the UK Spouse Visa, also known as Tier 2 General Dependent Visa here.

A ‘dependant’ is any of the following:

  • your husband, wife or partner
  • your child under 18
  • your child over 18 if they’re currently in the UK as a dependant
Do I have to pay for my own Tier 2 Visa?

For large companies, almost certainly not. However, some SME’s have been known to pass on part or even all the costs to international students.

What tends to be more common is that companies will pay for the Tier 2 Visa, but may ask international students to pay for part or all the immigration health surcharge, which could be as much as £1,200.

You can read here, for a full list of costs associated with sponsoring international students for a Tier 2 Visa.

Will I have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge?

The Immigration Health Surcharge (HIS) must be paid for anyone applying for a Visa in the UK, unless it’s a visitor visa for tourists.

For Tier 4 and Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme visas, the cost is £300 a year, for a total cost of the number of years for the Visa (A Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa lasts 2 years, so the Immigration Health Surcharge would be £600)

For all other Visas it’s £400 a year for a total of the number of years (A 5-year Visa, would mean an Immigration Health Surcharge of £2,000)

This gives you access to the National Health Service (NHS) free of charge.

Large companies may pay for the Immigration Health Surcharge, but smaller companies will let international students pay their own fees.

Can I apply for a Tier 2 Visa in the UK?

Yes, there are 2 types of application. In Country and Out of Country. Companies almost always prefer employing graduates using an in-country Visa. Out of country Visas are limited to 20,700 places a year, and generally for skilled professionals who already have significant work experience.

Can I apply for a Tier 2 Visa outside of the UK?

Referencing the question above, the limited number of out of country Tier 2 Visas (20,700) makes it highly competitive and unlikely a company would use such a process for an international student.

Based on my experience it would be almost impossible to get a job from outside of the UK as a student with little work experience.

This route would most often be used for professionals aged 30+.

Can I convert a Tier 5 to a Tier 2 Visa?

You can convert a Tier 5 to a Tier 2 Visa, just not in the UK. Once the 2 years is up, your employer would need to make a separate application for a Tier 2 Visa.

For full details read this in-depth post from the professional service firm Sable International here.

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