If you have completed your studies (successfully, we hope) as a Tier 4 Student, and now have the benefit of a superb British education, what next? Of course some people do not want to stay in the UK after their studies, and are happy to return home afterwards to get on with their lives. But others would like to stay in the UK if the opportunity were available.
In the last few years some visa categories have been abolished, but there are still various possibilities for “switching applications” for Tier 4 Students, ie switching from one kind of visa to another kind of visa whilst remaining in the UK. Such switching routes are either working visa routes or family visa routes. In the latter case Fate takes a hand. A delightful scenario is that the Tier 4 Student meets somebody, falls in love, gets married, and then applies for a partner visa. But of course life does not always work out in that way.
An obvious way forward in the working visas field might be for the Tier 4 student to switch to a Tier 2 Skilled Worker visa (what used to be known as a Work Permit visa). But there are hurdles to be met. For one thing, a Skilled Worker needs to have – as you might expect – skills. It is not possible to get a Tier 2 visa for the “flipping hamburgers” categories. So, depending on their background, a newly-graduated student might struggle to appear to be a skilled person.
And, for another thing, a Tier 2 worker has to be “sponsored” by their employer. This requires the employer being registered as a Tier 2 sponsor with the Home Office. Even if an employer would like to employ a student they will not be able to employ them as a Tier 2 migrant unless and until they acquire a Tier 2 sponsor licence, which is not an entirely straightforward process.
So much for all the difficulties, but what might be the solutions? Difficult problems require creative solutions, as they say.
First of all, a Tier 4/Tier 2 switch, although hard, is not impossible. It is worth remembering that Tier 4 Students are allowed to work part-time during term time and full time during holidays. A graduate student can work up to 20 hours per week. This could be a good opportunity to gain some relevant work experience.
And there is another – and in many cases more solid – way of gaining work experience. Graduate Tier 4 Students can potentially switch to a Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange Internship visa. This sounds rather complicated but it is broadly speaking very easy. This visa enables a graduate to work for up to one year in an internship with a UK employer, with a view to gaining knowledge and experience. The employer does not have to sponsor the intern and – unlike with Tier 2 – can pay whatever salary they think fit (as long as it is not below the national minimum wage). The sponsorship is carried out by a different sponsoring body, and the employer does not have to get involved with it.
This visa, although not very well-known, can be very attractive both for employers and students. And it can be a very good way of solving the “chicken and egg” problem for students: you need experience but you cannot get experience because nobody will give you a job because you are not experienced.
And, as with many things in life, if you have sufficient funds you may get what you want. If you have a good level of funds in the bank you might be interested applying to switch to a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa so that you can run your own business in the UK. You may often read that you need at least £200,000 for this. This is often true, but not in all cases: sometimes substantially less than this will be sufficient.
And if you have extremely good funds in the bank (ie at least £2 million) you might be interested in applying to switch for a Tier 1 Investor. A Tier 1 Investor visa offers what some might consider a perfect lifestyle: you can work if you want to but you do not have to.
Another switchable category is Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur; applicants in this category must have already been identified by their educational institution or the Department for International Trade as being brilliant potential entrepreneurs.
Tier 4 switching rules, like most things to do with the Immigration Rules, are quite complex, and it is best to take good legal advice before deciding on what action to take.