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How to Get a UK Work Visa

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Thinking of studying in the UK, and interested in finding work during or after your studies? Read on for advice on UK work visas and the application requirements…

Working in the UK during your studies

If you’d like to find part-time work while studying in the UK, you’ll need to be aware of the requirements and restrictions that apply to students from your country:

Students from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland

If you’re from a country within the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you can work in the UK while studying, without any restrictions or permissions. You should be prepared to show your passport or identity card to your employer to prove you’re an EU national, and should apply for a National Insurance number (scroll to the end of this article for details).

Students from outside the EU

If you’re a student from outside the EU, you’ll most likely be in the UK on a Tier 4 (General) student visa, which will tell you the number of hours you can work during term-time. If you’re attending a publicly funded UK university at degree level or above, or taking part in a study abroad program at an overseas higher education institution, you can work for up to 20 hours per week during term-time and full-time during the Christmas and Easter breaks.

You can’t work if you’re attending a private university (of which there are only five in the country) or a publicly funded college. If you’re aged 16 or 17 or studying below degree level, you are only permitted to work for up to 10 hours per week during term-time. You can have more than one employer as long as you don’t go beyond the 10/20 hours per week limit.

Time spent completing a permitted work placement as part of your studies will not count as part of your 10 or 20 hours. However, any work placements must not take up more than a third of your total study time – or half if you’re studying at an overseas higher education institute or on a Tier 4 (Child) visa.

You can take up most types of employment, but cannot be self-employed or work in business activity, a role as an entertainer or professional sportsperson (including sports coach), or any permanent full-time position, unless it’s on a recognized foundation program or as a students’ union sabbatical officer. You can work full-time after finishing your degree as long as your visa status is still valid and you don’t work in a permanent position, self-employed, as a doctor or any of the other prohibited roles mentioned above.

Working in the UK after graduation

Students from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland

Students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland are entitled to work and stay in the UK without the need for a visa – so far there have been no changes to this following the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU. If the UK withdraws from the existing freedom of movement agreement, future EU students may need to apply for visas for study and post-graduation employment.

Students from outside the EU/EEA

There are various visa schemes open for non-EU students to remain and work in the UK after completing their studies. The Start Up Visa, which will replace the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa in July 2019, is intended for people outside the EU and Switzerland who want to start their own business in the UK. To apply for this visa, you’ll need to get endorsement from an authorized body, which can be a UK university. You could also be endorsed by the Sirius Programme. You’ll need to pay a fee for this visa, as well as the healthcare surcharge to access the National Health Service (NHS). If your application is successful, you can stay in the UK for two years.

However, the most popular way to gain a UK work visa is through the Tier 2 (General) visa, which is for skilled workers from outside the EEA and Switzerland who have a job offer to work in the UK. To be eligible, the job will usually need to have a salary of at least £20,800 (~US$27,300) per year, although there are some roles excluded from this.

To switch from the Tier 4 Student Visa to the Tier 2 visa, you’ll need to have successfully gained a degree from a licensed Tier 4 sponsor. You must be applying from inside the UK and apply before your current visa expires.

Other eligibility requirements and documents needed include:

  • Evidence that you can support yourself financially – you must prove with bank statements that you have at least £945 (~US$1,240) in your account for 90 days before you apply, or a certificate of sponsorship if applicable.
  • A certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor.
  • Proof that you can speak English to the required level, unless you’re from a country where this is not required (list here).
  • Biometric information (fingerprints and a photograph).
  • Current passport.
  • Tuberculosis test results if you’re from a country where this is required.
  • A criminal record certificate (if you’re working with vulnerable people).

To apply, you’ll need to pay the appropriate visa charge and healthcare surcharge for yourself and any dependents. If your application is successful, you can stay in the UK with a Tier 2 (General) visa for a maximum of 5 years and 14 days, or the time given on your certificate of sponsorship plus one month, whichever is shorter. Your stay must start no more than 14 days before the start date on your certificate of sponsorship. After five years, you can apply for a permanent residency card.

If you’d prefer to work in the UK for a shorter period, you could apply for the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker - Government Authorised Exchange) visawhich is for those undertaking work experience or training programs. The requirements for this are similar – you’ll need £945 in savings and a certificate of sponsorship from your UK sponsor (your employer). This UK work visa allows you to stay in the country for 12 or 24 months, depending on which scheme you apply for.

National Insurance numbers

Everyone who wants to work in the UK will need a National Insurance (NI) number, a unique code which is used to track your tax payments and contributions to the UK’s social security system. This is free to obtain – you’ll need to apply by phone as soon as possible, and can only do so in the UK. You should have your passport/visa information to hand when you call.

The NI number will take around four weeks to be issued, and depending on your visa status, you might be asked to attend an interview. You can start work without a NI number but will need to prove to your employer that you’ve applied for it and give them the number once it’s issued. If you have a biometric residence permit (BRP) you may already have a NI number printed on the back, so you won’t need to apply for another one.

This article was originally published in December 2016. It was updated in April 2019.

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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1 Comment

Many employers help with obtaining a visa and relocation if the applicant is suitable for them. I think it is worthwhile to start sending out a resume, it will be easier. I have seen many offers on https://uk.jobsora.com/, https://www.indeed.co.uk/ or https://www.glassdoor.co.uk, you can take. And only then, if it doesn't work, you can try other ways.