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If you want to stay in the UK after graduation and start a career, there are many opportunities and options available.

International student careers are an important part of your journey through university and beyond. Below, you’ll find information on the main paths open to you if you want to stay in the UK and look for a career.

What visa do you need for employment after university?

After graduation, international students currently have four months to secure a job. 

If you’re offered a job, you’ll be able to apply for a general work visa (Tier 2). The Tier 2 visa requires you have an offer of employment from an organisation with a sponsor license. Once they’ve given you an employment offer, they’ll also give you a certificate of sponsorship, which holds your personal details and information about your new job.

The job you have been offered must also pay at least £30,000 a year (or the appropriate salary for the job you're offered - whichever is higher. Read more on this here). 

How much does the visa cost?

The cost of a Tier 2 visa depends on your unique situation. If you’re a student looking to stay up to three years in the UK after graduation, the cost of switching visas is £704. If you’re looking to stay longer than three years, the visa cost rises to £1,408.

How soon should I apply for my visa and how long will the process take?

The earliest you can apply for a Tier 2 visa is three months before you start working. The date you start working will be listed on your certificate of sponsorship.

As for visa processing times, this depends on the country you’ve applied from. It’s typically within 15 working days, but you can check here.

It’s important that you understand and start the Tier 2 application process early in your course if you wish to stay and work in the UK after your graduation.

If you know the process well, you’ll be able to have conversations with potential employers much earlier than graduation, which will put you ahead of other students looking to do the same thing. It’s also worth noting that a lot of graduate employers start recruiting a year in advance of the position’s start date.

This means you’ll have more chance of gaining the benefits that come from working in the UK.

What can you do on a Tier 2 Visa?

There are a number of benefits you can gain for your international student career from having a Tier 2 visa:

  • work for your sponsor in the job described in your certificate of sponsorship
  • do a second job 
  • do voluntary work
  • study as long as it does not interfere with the job you’re sponsored for
  • travel abroad and return to the UK
  • bring family members with you

Find out more about Tier 2 visas by taking a look at the UK government’s information page.

How can you improve your chances of getting a Tier 2 visa?

  • get some work experience: If you get the chance in the summer period between semesters or even during term, apply to internships, work placements or part-time jobs. It helps to develop your skills and gives you more chance of getting that all-important job offer. However, summer work opportunities are not available to postgraduate students
  • explore extra-curricular activities: Joining societies, volunteering and other extra-curricular work are great things you can add to your CV. It shows both your university and potential employers that you've gained important skills, such as leadership or communication skills from society participation or charity work. This is important for developing your career later in life

What alternative visas are there?

There are two main alternative visas that international students can apply for after graduation: Start-up Visa and Tier 5.

Start-up visa

This is the visa you can choose if you want to set up a business in the UK and you meet the eligibility requirements.

To receive this visa, you must be endorsed by an authorised UK organisation that is either:

  • A UK higher education institution
  • A business with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs 

Furthermore, you must also show that your business idea is new, innovate and viable. You need to show that it will work and include projected costs and incomes

Tier 5

A Tier 5 visa is a temporary working visa. If you apply for this visa, it means you have to return home, but it does provide time for students who are looking to build a relationship with a potential employer. Tier 5 visa holders can apply for a Tier 2 visa from their home country, which requires an employer to do three things:

With these visa options in place, the UK is an ideal place for you to grow your skills and start the career that you want - but what career is that?

Explore your future career options 

The UK is a desirable destination for starting international student careers. Before that time to search for a job comes, you need to explore what career options are open to you.

To do that, use our career compass. Essentially, the career compass is a quiz that will help you determine your work style and current skill sets, which will help you discover what possible careers you could go into. 

Click below to explore your future career options.


Career Compass