Student visa, Tier 4, is to come and study in the UK. If you study at a degree level at a UK university, you can work part-time (usually 20 hours per week) during the term, full-time on vacation and full-time for 4 months after completion of the course.
At the moment, you can switch to Tier 2 General after completion of a degree course (or even within 3 months before that!). There are benefits for employers to hire Tier 4 graduates. A Tier 2 Sponsor doesn’t need to advertise a vacancy to the settled workers before hiring a Tier 4 migrant. Also, they can offer a New Entrant salary, which makes it more affordable for the employers and makes sponsorship more likely for the migrants. After 5 years on Tier 2 General you can qualify for settlement.
There is an exciting development coming soon – a revival of a Post-Study Work visa! It existed before 2012 and was a visa for 2 years, allowing graduates to remain in the UK for 2 years – to look for work, to work as an employee or to set up a business in the UK. While we are still awaiting the details, this visa is expected to be re-introduced to those who begin studies in the UK during 2020-21 university intake. In that case, you could come to study for a UK degree, get a 2-year visa to look for work, then switch to Tier 2 General (more likely after 2 years of working experience than straight after Tier 4) and then settled in the UK after 5 years on Tier 2.
You can also qualify for settlement after 10 years of continuous legal residence on any UK visas.
After 2 years the only option to remain in the UK (without leaving) is a Spouse/Partner visa. Very often we see people switching to an Unmarried Partner visa, having met the ‘living together’ requirement while on Tier 5 YMS.
You can, however, return to the UK on a different visa as soon as practically possible. For example, 2 years in the UK is often sufficient time to find a company that is willing to sponsor you under Tier 2 General. If you have the right skills, such as an engineer, IT programmer, a web-designer or an artist, you may be welcomed back very soon because these jobs are on the Shortage Occupation List! It means UK companies do not have to look for settled workers first, instead they can proceed straight to hiring a foreigner. In practice, UK companies will have tried to find local workers by this time, and failed, so you will be very welcome!
Having come back to the UK on a Tier 2 General visa, you can qualify for settlement after 5 years. If you do switch to a Spouse/Partner visa (inside the UK for come back after applying abroad), you can also qualify for settlement after 5 years!
Without leaving the UK there is only Spouse/Partner visa option. You can, however, return to your country and apply from there for Tier 2 General (having found a Sponsor while in the UK), a business visa, Tier 1 Investor visa, Talent visa.
This visa is for Commonwealth citizens who with a grandparent born in the UK. It is for 5 years, allows to work and settle after 5 years.
If you have spent 10 years, continuously and legally, in the UK on any visas, you can qualify for settlement. Common paths include study at school, study at university, working, settlement after 10 years. It can even be just 10 years of studying because studies at a school level aren’t included in the cap. There are further requirements to meet, such as very strict limit on absences from the UK during this time, which can be (and often is) a dealbreaker, but even then, there may be a point where, with more extension, you can reach it soon!
These are visas based on your relationship, and they all allow working in the UK. Spouses and partners of British citizens can get a Spouse/Partner visa, we have a detailed separation section here. Same applies if your partner has a permanent residency status.
Parents of British citizens can get a Parent visa. Same if your child isn’t British but has lived in the UK for 7 years.
If you are in a relationship with a European citizen, who has a pre-settled or settled status in the UK, you will still be able to apply as a family member under the ‘pre-Brexit’ rules, as long as a family relation (or relationship) existed on 31.12.2020.
If you are in a relationship with a migrant, who is on the route to settlement, such as Tier 2 General, you can apply for a Dependant visa.
All of these family options allow working in the UK. Tier 2 Dependants can work for any employer while the main Tier 2 migrant is restricted to working for their Sponsor. Tier 1 Dependants can work for any employer too while the main Tier 1 migrant is restricted to activities on their visas, such as running a business (Tier 1 Entrepreneur) or working in their professional field (Tier 1 Exceptional Talent).