Life post-Tier 4: UK visa options for international students

Anne Morris, of law firm DavidsonMorris, takes a look at immigration options for Tier 4 students to stay in the UK after they graduate

There are a number of options potentially available to Tier 4 students wanting to secure lawful status in the UK after study.

Complex UK immigration rules can, however, make it overwhelming for students to understand which visas they are eligible for and what they need to do to apply.

We look briefly at some of the main options for Tier 4 students looking to remain in the UK or to return under another visa scheme either to find a job, start a business or make investments here.

Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa

This visa route is extremely popular. It allows the visa holder to put their business idea into action or to invest into an existing UK business. Multiple applicants are also able to make a combined application if they will be going into business together. In time, it can lead to settlement.

Eligibility includes a minimum financial investment, and a 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 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 to be made in approved investment activity.

Tier 2 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.

“Complex UK immigration rules can make it overwhelming for students to understand which visas they are eligible for and what they need to do to apply.”  

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

These visa schemes were designed to attract skills and innovation to UK tech.

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 spring 2018.

Tier 4 visa pilot 

This pilot scheme is currently live in a number of UK universities. It offers Tier 4 students the opportunity to apply to study on a Master’s 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

There are a number of options to remain in the UK under the long-term relationship rules, including civil partnerships.

Making the Home Office application

Whichever option is considered, as with any Home Office application, it is always worth reminding applicants to follow the basic rules, ensuring they:

 – Satisfy the relevant eligibility criteria relevant to their choice of visa

 – Submit all correct supporting documentation 

 – Follow the Home Office process to the letter

 – Apply in advance of their current visa expiring

Anne Morris is an immigration solicitor and Managing Director at DavidsonMorris, specialist business immigration advisers to organisations on all areas of UK immigration including sponsorship licences, compliance and civil penalties.