Visa options for international students to stay in the UK

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What are the immigration options for Tier 4 visa students to stay in the UK after they graduate?

If you’re a Tier 4 visa holder in your final year of studies, you’re probably starting to think about your options for after you graduate. 

If you’re looking to stay in the UK after you graduate, you’ll need to have applied to the Home Office for permission to remain, whether you want to find a job here, start a business or make investments. 

The immigration options aren't always obvious and Home Office rules can make it difficult for international students to understand which visas they are actually eligible for and what they need to do to apply.

We take a brief look at some of the main options for Tier 4 students to stay in the UK or to return here under another visa scheme.

Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa

The entrepreneur visa is extremely popular among Tier 4 visa holders. It allows the visa holder to put their business idea into action or to invest in an existing UK business and can also lead to settlement in the UK.

If you plan to go into business with other international students, why not make a combined application?

Eligibility includes a minimum financial investment and a thorough business plan will need to be submitted as part of the application.

Tier 1 Investor visa

More and more students are bypassing the Tier 4 visa and opting straight for the Tier 1 investor visa as it allows them to study in the UK and after five years, apply for a British passport.

Whether applying as an undergraduate or post-graduate, applicants will need to meet one of three levels of investment in approved investment activity.

Tier 2 (General) visa

For individuals who can find qualifying employment with a licensed sponsor, the Tier 2 visa offers permission to work in the UK for up to five years with the potential to settle.

Exceptional Talent visa, Tech Nation visa scheme & Research and Innovation Talent visa

These visa schemes were designed to attract skills and innovation to the UK’s growing tech sector.

They are aimed at applicants who can meet high technical and skill requirements, and offer more relaxed general eligibility criteria, such as language ability, compared with other points-based visas.

This is an area of ongoing development, with new schemes being made available. A new Start Up visa is currently being developed, and is due to be introduced in the Spring 2018.

Tier 4 visa pilot

This is a pilot scheme is currently live in a number of UK universities. It offers Tier 4 students the opportunity to apply to study on a Masters course of up to 13 months with a further six months added to the visa to allow for the holder to look for job roles in the UK.

Extending a Tier 4 visa

Tier 4 students may also be eligible to apply to extend their existing visa, either to continue a course or start a new one. Applicants will need to be sponsored and the application must be made within strict timescales.

Long-term relationship basis

A number of options to remain in the UK under the long-term relationship rules maybe available, including civil partnerships.

Post-Brexit rule changes

UK employers and universities have been vocal about the need to simplify the rules and encourage Tier 4 students to remain in the UK after their studies. With a new, post-Brexit immigration system on the horizon, we may well see the rules relaxed for international students, such as opening up the Tier 4 route to allow graduates to work in the UK for up to 2 years after their studies.

Under current rules however, whichever option you elect to pursue, given what’s at stake you’ll need approach the application process fully informed and fully prepared, ensuring you: 

  • Satisfy the relevant eligibility criteria for your chosen route
  • Submit all correct supporting documentation
  • Follow the Home Office process to the letter
  • Apply in advance of your current visa expiring
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