6 Ways to Stay in the UK After Your Studies (Without Getting Married!)

Learn how to stay in the UK after your studies -- without having to get married! These are the 6 visas that will allow you to remain.

Let’s be honest. Immigration is never easy.

It is an expensive, time-consuming, and painstaking process with few guarantees. Plus, in today’s world, it is particularly difficult.

However, though it is very hard to immigrate to the UK, there are several visa options open to international students who have completed their course within the country.

Below, I list all of the different work visas available to graduates and break each down by cost, accessibility, and length of stay.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am NOT an immigration lawyer or an employee of the Home Office. My knowledge is limited to my personal research and experience in applying for visas as an international student. Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this post for further information. 


Tier 1: Graduate Entrepreneur Visa

Tier 1: Exceptional Talent Visa

Tier 2: General Work Visa


Learn how to stay in the UK after your studies -- without having to get married! These are the 6 visas that will allow you to remain.

Tier 1: Graduate Entrepreneur Visa


The Graduate Entrepreneur Visa is a new visa that has unofficially replaced the Post-Study Work Visa, which was discontinued in 2012.

This visa is an excellent opportunity for recent graduates who wish to remain in the UK, but who have not been able to secure a Tier 2 General Work Visa.

Applicants must develop a business idea and then propose that idea to a UK HEI (UK Higher Education Institute). Oftentimes the UK HEI in this scenario is the same university attended by the applicant.

There are 3 application periods throughout the year: February, June, and November. In addition to completing a full application and business plan, applicants must also attach a financial plan and their CV. After receiving all necessary documents, the UK HEI will then contact students to arrange a formal presentation in which applicants propose their idea in front of the committee responsible for determining who is selected for endorsement.

The application process can be long and daunting, as students who fail to present a unique and viable business plan will be rejected.

However, this is probably one of the easiest visas to get and certainly one with much more freedom than most of the others. 

So what are the steps that you must take to get this visa?

  1. Develop a credible business proposal. This part is essential. The university needs to believe that you can actually implement the plan you’ve developed. Big, lofty business plans might seem like a great way to impress the panel of judges, but oftentimes this strategy backfires as the applicant will appear unrealistic and out of their depth. It is much better to develop a plan that is actionable rather than overly optimistic.
  2. Pay close attention to finances. The financial plan that you attach to your business proposal is a very good indicator of how well you have researched the feasibility of your idea. If your estimated budget is too high or too low, you may appear unqualified.
  3. Follow up. Universities are very busy and the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa is brand new. You will likely encounter administrators who are not very familiar with the scheme. Make sure you stay in contact and follow up regarding the status of your application just in case it gets lost in the hustle and especially if your current visa is due to expire in the near future.
  4. Remember that the visa application process doesn’t end when you get sponsorship. After being officially endorsed by a UK HEI, applicants must then go on to apply with the Home Office. In addition to a 41 page application and their letter of endorsement, applicants must also include evidence that they have held at least £945 in their bank account for the last 90 days, 2 passport photos, their BRP, and their passport.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s a lot. A LOT. But is it worth it?

Yes, yes, yes!!!!

This is probably the most flexible visa available for international students in the UK.

Though the process is tedious, successful applicants have the ability to (for the most part) work anywhere and do anything. Unlike the Tier 2 General Work Visa which ties people to a specific job, the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa provides immense freedom. The Home Office stipulates that successful applicants should spend a majority of their time on their new business venture, though there are few regulations implemented after the visa is awarded.

The Graduate Entrepreneur Visa is initially good for 12 months and can then be renewed for another 12 months if the business shows ‘progress’. After this time, awardees must either secure an investment of at least £50,000 or apply for a different type of visa.

Read the full, official guidelines here.

Duration: 1-2 years

Cost: £465 + additional fees

Accessibility: Limited to recent graduates

Difficulty: 6/10

Tier 1: Exceptional Talent Visa


The other type of Tier 1 visa that students can apply for to stay in the UK after their studies is the Exceptional Talent Visa, which is awarded to applicants who demonstrate exceptional talent or promise in one of the following five fields of study:

  • Arts and culture
  • Humanities and social science
  • Natural sciences and medical sciences research
  • Engineering
  • Digital technology

There are a total of 1,000 endorsements for the Exceptional Talent Visa available each year. The first 500 are eligible during the period of April 6 – September 30, and the remainder are available from October 1 – April 5.

One thousand endorsements might seem like a lot, but don’t let that high number fool you. This visa is extremely competitive and oftentimes not all available endorsements are granted. In order to be successfully endorsed, applicants really must be exceptional.

The application process occurs in 2 phases. In phase 1, applicants seek endorsement from the designated body allocated to their particular field of study.

  • Arts Council England – Arts and culture (250 places)
  • The Royal Society – Humanities and social science (250 places)
  • The British Academy – Natural sciences and medical sciences research (150 places)
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering – Engineering (150 places)
  • Tech City UK – Digital technology (200 places)

Phase 1 of the application process is very rigorous and requires 2 reference letters, in addition to extensive proof of your ability and accolades within your chosen field.

If selected, the applicant must then begin Phase 2 of the immigration process, in which they then formally apply with the Home Office.

So, is this lengthy application worth it?

Absolutely. If you have received legitimate recognition (via prestigious awards, high-ranking jobs, etc.) in one of the five fields list above, then certainly apply for this visa. It is good for 5 years and, much like the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, offers near total freedom.

Read the full, official guidelines here.

Duration: 5 years

Cost: £574 + additional fees

Accessibility: All countries

Difficulty: 8/10

Learn how to stay in the UK after your studies -- without having to get married! These are the 6 visas that will allow you to remain.

Tier 2: General Work Visa


Oh, the coveted Tier 2 General Work Visa.

When people talk about wanting to get a work visa, this is most often the one they mean.

But is it really as great as people are led to believe?

Let’s look at the pros of the visa first:

  1. It lasts for a (relatively) long time. As success applicants are granted 3-5 years to stay in the country with the potential for an extension, this visa is much longer than most.
  2. It offers stability. People will work in a salaried position, and therefore have the security which comes with it.

And now, the cons: 

  1. You are completely reliant on the company that hires you. If you are let go from that company at any time, you will lose your right to remain in the UK. You are also therefore limited in terms of what other type of work you can pursue as it cannot conflict with your salaried position.
  2. It is very expensive. Though the visa is longer than most, it is also more expensive than most.
  3. It is difficult to get. Read on to learn more…

Why is it so hard to get a Tier 2 General Work Visa?

There are several reason that this is a difficult visa to get, especially for students.

First, you are required to earn at least £25,000 per year. For recent graduates, this can be particularly challenging.

Also, you must be hired for a job that falls under NQF level 6 or above. This means that you must be considered highly skilled and doing a job of a certain ‘rank’.

Click here to see the full list of jobs considered NQF level 6 or above.

Examples of these types of jobs include: CEOs, engineers, legal professionals, social workers, musicians, business development managers, etc.

The list is varied, but all of the jobs listed require that applicants are very experienced. For example, though it may seem somewhat easy to apply for a job as a musician, it is important to remember that the job must pay a salary of at least £25,000 per year, and that the company must be willing to go through the hassle of hiring an international applicant rather than a UK or European applicant. The former decision is much more expensive and requires much more paperwork than the latter.

Furthermore, there is a there is lengthy (though limited) list of companies that are official sponsors of this visa.

Read the full, official guidelines here. 

Duration: 3-5 years (though this is wholly dependent on  your employer)

Cost: £437 – £1328 + additional fees

Accessibility: All countries

Difficulty: 8/10

Additional Tier 2 Visa: Intra-Company Transfer Visa

Students who have recently graduated from a UK university will likely not meet the requirements of this visa as it requires that applicants be currently employed with a particular company. The Intra-Company Transfer Visa is ideal for candidates with an overseas employer who has offered them a role in a UK branch of the company.

Read the full, official guidelines here.

There are also the Tier 2 Minister of Religion Visa and the Tier 2 Sportsperson Visa. However, these are 2 very niche visas that we do not have experience with.

Tier 4: Student Visa


Another option for graduates hoping to continue their stay in the UK after their studies is to. . . keep on studying!

This is technically not a work visa, but the Tier 2 Student Visa does allows students to work up to 20 hours per week in addition to studying. Self-employment is not allowed, so students cannot work any job that requires them to invoice.

In order to successfully transfer to another Tier 4 Student Visa, applicants must prove that they are progressing in their studies. For example, if you do an MA in Literature and then apply to do a second MA in Creative Writing, your application will likely be rejected. Technically, it is possible to complete 2 programs of the same value (such as 2 MA programs) this way, but applicants must make a strong argument for why they are hoping to do so.

On the other hand, applicants who wish to progress to a higher program (such as those applying for a PhD program in the UK after completing their MA) are much more likely to succeed.

Of course, this is often a very expensive option. Though postgraduate funding for international students exists, it is very competitive to receive.

Read the full, official guidelines here. 

 

Duration: Varies by length of program

Cost: £448 + additional fees

Accessibility: All countries

Difficulty: 5/10

Tier 5: Youth Mobility Scheme

For those lucky enough to be under 30 and hold a passport from 1 of 8 participating countries, this is the ideal visa.

It is easy to get (with the appropriate passport), very flexible, and lasts for up to 2 years.

In order to be applicable for this visa, you must be from:

  • Australia (38,000)
  • Canada (5,000)
  • Japan (1,000)
  • Monaco (1,000)
  • New Zealand (11,000)
  • Hong Kong (1,000)
  • Republic of Korea (1,000)
  • Taiwan (1,000)

Each of these countries offer a similar exchange to British nationals.

Additionally, applicants must show proof of £1,890 in savings.

Read the full, official guidelines here. 

Duration: 2 years

Cost: £230 + additional fees

Accessibility: Nationals aged 18-30 from a participating country

Difficulty: 3/10

Tier 5: Temporary Worker Visa

Another option for students who have recently graduated and hope to stay in the UK is the Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa. Like the Tier 2 General Work Visa, there is lengthy (though limited) list of companies that are official sponsors of this visa.

There are 5 different types of Temporary Worker Visas:

1. Charity Worker Visa

The Charity Worker Visa allows applicants to do unpaid work for a charity. The applicant must receive a formal endorsement from that charity in order to apply.

  • Duration: 12 months
  • Cost: £230 + additional fees
  • Accessibility: All countries

2. Creative and Sporting Visa

The Creative and Sporting Visa is limited to those who have been offered work as a sports person or creative worker.

  • Duration: 12 months
  • Cost: £230 + additional fees
  • Accessibility: All countries

3. Government Authorised Exchange Visa

Currently, there are 4 different types of Government Authorised Exchange Programmes: work experience programmes (such as volunteering, internships, etc.); research programmes (such as research on specific academic, medical, or governmental projects at a UK HEI or research institution); training programmes (such as formal or practical training in science or medicine); or overseas government language programmes (such as language programmes sponsored by overseas governments that send their nationals to the UK as part of a government partnership agreement). Applicants interested in applying for this visa much do so with a specific program in mind.

Click here for the full list of government authorised exchange partners.

  • Duration: 12-24 months depending on program
  • Cost: £230 + additional fees
  • Accessibility: All countries

4. International Agreement Visa

This visa is available to those who have been contracted to do work covered by international law while in the UK, such as working for an overseas government or as a private servant in a diplomatic household.

  • Duration: 24 months
  • Cost: £230 + additional fees
  • Accessibility: All countries

5. Religious Worker Visa 

This visa is available to those who wish to do religious work, such as preaching or working in a religious order.

  • Duration: 24 months
  • Cost: £230 + additional fees
  • Accessibility: All countries

DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am NOT an immigration lawyer or an employee of the Home Office. My knowledge of the various visa schemes is limited to my personal research and experience in applying for visas as an international student.

I fully realise that the ease by which individuals can immigrate is largely dependent on one’s nationality and finances. Unfortunately, certain passport holders will find it much more difficult to acquire a visa than others. 

This post is written with the sole intention of helping others understand complicated UK immigration policies. If you have questions, please leave them in the comments. However, please remember I am by no means legally or professionally qualified to guide people through the immigration process. All I can offer is my personal advice. 

Please consult the Home Office website for official information. 

Learn how to stay in the UK after your studies -- without having to get married! These are the 6 visas that will allow you to remain.

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