Which visa do you need to stay in the UK after your studies?
If you want to stay in the UK after you graduate, you need to be prepared! Source: Shutterstock

Anne Morris of law firm DavidsonMorris gives a run down of the main immigration options for Tier 4 visa students wanting to stay in the UK after they graduate.

When your course draws to a close, you may find you’re not quite ready to leave the UK. You might have ambitions to start your career in the country and are already working with a great UK employer. Or perhaps you’ve met someone special and started to put down roots.

Whether you want to find a job, continue your studies, start a business or make investments after your UK course has ended, you’ll need a new visa in place before your current Tier 4 (General) visa ends.

Leaving your Tier 4 visa to expire will cause issues. You’ll be considered an overstayer, which can impact any UK immigration applications you make in the future.

You guessed it – this means applying to the Home Office for a visa and permission to stay and carry out your chosen activity.

UK visas for Tier 4 graduates

As with anything Home Office-related, your options aren’t hugely clear or straightforward.

You’ll need to check whether you’re eligible for the visa you want and then tackle the application process, all before your visa expires.

Not easy, but if you have your heart and ambitions set on the next phase of your life in the UK, here are some of the more popular Tier 4 graduate options for you to consider:

  1. Tier 4 visa pilot

This pilot scheme is currently available in a limited number of UK universities. You can apply to study on a Masters course of up to 13 months with a further 6 months added to your visa to allow you to look for job roles in the UK.

Extending your Tier 4 visa

You may be eligible to apply to extend your existing Tier 4 visa, either to continue a course or start a new one, but you must have a sponsor and the application must be made within a strict timescale.

  1. Tier 2 (General) visa

UK employers are crying out for highly-skilled talent across all areas of the economy. If you can find employment with a licensed sponsor, the Tier 2 visa will permit you to work in the UK for up to five years with the potential to settle if you’re thinking long-term.

If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the Government’s list of approved sponsors.

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

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

They’re aimed at applicants who can meet high technical and skill requirements, and offer more relaxed eligibility criteria, such as language ability, compared with other visas.

It’s an area of ongoing development, with new schemes being made available. A new Start Up visa is currently being developed and opened to applications in Spring 2018.

  1. Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa

The entrepreneur visa is extremely popular among Tier 4 visa holders. Ideal for the entrepreneurial-minded, it allows you to put your business idea into action or to invest in an existing UK business.

It also offers flexibility if you plan to go into business with other Tier 4 graduates, with provision for you to make a combined application.

As an added bonus, the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa can lead to settlement in the UK.

To be eligible, you will need to make a minimum financial investment and submit a thorough business plan, which will be scrutinised as part of your application.

  • Tier 1 Investor visa

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

Whether applying as an undergraduate or postgraduate, you will need to meet one of three levels of investment and there are strict rules on the type of investments you can make to be eligible.

  1. Long-term relationship basis

A number of options may be available to you under the long-term relationship rules, such as civil partnership and spouse visas. The rules are strict to deter fraudulent applications, and eligibility will depend on yours and your partner’s circumstances.

Taking the next step

Whichever route you choose, you’ll need to prepare yourself well for the application process.

Get to grips with what the Home Office is looking for in your application, pull together your documents early, be clear on the deadlines and fees to be paid and put your application in with plenty of time to be processed.

You’ve dealt with the Home Office before so you’ll know it’s all about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

Anne Morris is an immigration solicitor and Managing Director at UK immigration law firm DavidsonMorris.

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