Permission to work in the UK - the facts

Recruiting international students in the UK is straightforward and we are here to help

Employing international students and graduates is much easier than you might think and we are here to help!

The process of hiring EU and non-EU citizens has changed. The UK now has a points based immigration system for international students who wish to work and study in the UK. As of 1st January 2021, the points based immigration system applies to nationals from EU, EEA and Switzerland as well as to nationals from outside Europe.

The Student Visa

The Student visa has replaced the Tier 4 general visa. All EU/EEA students who haven’t successfully gained settled or pre settled status by 30th June 2021 will now need to hold a valid student visa.


Employing international students during their studies

Work rights are a condition of immigration permission. In most cases, international students studying on the Student Visa will be allowed to work.

The Student Visa for full time degree level study allows for a maximum of 20 hours work per week during term time or full time work outside of term time. Postgraduate students are not permitted to work full time until their official course end date.

‘Term time’ refers to the period when the University expects students to be studying and ‘outside term time’ means any other time, including the period before your course starts and after it ends, as well vacation periods.

Students with permission to work during their studies can apply for and accept jobs in most types of paid role however there are some restrictions on the type of work students can undertake. Refer to UKCISA for further information.

UKVI requires all employers in the UK to check their employee’s right to work. Further guidance can on how to carry out right to work checks be found on the Government website.


Employing international students after their studies: main visa routes

The full range of hiring options is detailed in the latest government guidance.

Government guidance

The two most relevant options to recruit recent international graduates are the Graduate route and Skilled Worker route.

The Graduate route (Hire for two or three years without sponsorship)

Under the Graduate route, graduates will be able to remain in the UK for 2 years once they have successfully completed their studies (3 years for PhD) to work in any job or look for work.

The Graduate route will be available to international students who have completed a degree at undergraduate level or above and who have valid Tier 4 or Student permission at the time of application.

Key criteria:

  • Applications for the Graduate route open on Thursday 1 July 2021
  • Students can continue to work under the conditions of their Tier 4/ Student permission while the Graduate route application is considered
  • Work is not subject to a minimum skill level or salary threshold
  • No need to sponsor – international students apply to this unsponsored route themselves
  • No costs for employers
  • Flexible – the Graduate route is ideal if you have a fixed-term project or if you aren’t yet sure of your longer-term requirements.
  • The Graduate route cannot be extended however those on the Graduate route can switch into most other routes, including the Skilled Worker route.
  • There are some restrictions on the type of work can undertake on the Graduate route. Refer to UKCISA for further information.

Hire longer-term on the Skilled Worker route

The Skilled Worker route has replaced the Tier 2 visa. Under the Skilled Worker route, the hiring organisation will need to sponsor the applicant to do a role which meets the skill and salary requirements outlined by the Home Office.

Key criteria:

  • Graduates will need an offer of employment in an eligible occupation code listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations in order to apply for the Skilled Worker route.

  • The required skill level to sponsor roles has been reduced from Level 6 to at least skill level of RQF 3 (A-level equivalent)
  • There is no limit on the length of time which can be spent under the Skilled Worker route
  • The general minimum salary for the Skilled Worker has been lowered. ‘New entrants’ need to be paid a salary of either £20,480 or 70% of the going rate for their job, whichever is higher. New entrants are those under the age of 26, those switching into the skilled worker route from the student route, a graduate or a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur).
  • The person you wish to hire under the Skilled Worker visa must score 70 points. Refere to the Skilled Worker route government guidance for further information on the points system
  • Employers are no longer required to complete the Resident Labour Market Test


Apply for a Sponsor License

If you are not on the UKVI Register of Sponsors, obtaining a licence is a straightforward application process:

  • Check your business is eligible
  • Choose the type of licence
  • Decide who will manage sponsorship within your business
  • Apply online and pay the fee


Overview of key schemes

Detailed information on schemes which allow students to work in the UK while studying and after graduation:

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)


Related links 

International Student Employability Group guide for Recruiting International Graduates

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