UK work visa options

Study – Work – Settlement

Student visa (formerly called 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 20 hours a week during the term, full-time on vacation and full-time for 4 months after completion of the course.

You can switch to the new Skilled Worker visa after completion of a degree course, or even within 3 months before that! There are benefits for employers to hire Student graduates – 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 this visa you can qualify for settlement.

If you are a business, looking to hire and sponsor migrant workers, including graduates, please book an online consultation with our lawyers here.

Study – Graduate route – Work – Settlement   

NEW – Graduate route visa! Available to graduates from UK universities, who have completed a degree course, ie minimum Bachelor level. A visa for 2 years (3 years for PhD students), allowing to work for any employer at any skill level without sponsorship, as well as to set up a business in the UK.  You can come to study for a UK degree, then get a 2-year visa to look for work, then switch to the above – mentioned Skilled Worker visa. After 5 years – settlement. Graduate visa won’t count towards settlement, so if you are able to find Sponsorship for a Skilled Worker visa sooner, you could start ‘your’ 5 years sooner too. It is also a useful visa to buy time to complete 2 years of living together to qualify for an Unmarried Partner visa, which also leads to settlement. 

Youth Mobility Scheme – Work – Settle in the UK  

Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS), also known as a UK working holiday visa, is for citizens of certain countries. The list changes from time to time and usually  includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Monaco, Taiwan, and the latest additions are Iceland and India. Also, Hong Kong, although there is a new visa for Hong Kong BNO status holders.  This visa is for 2 years. It allows to work for any UK employer, be self-employed freelancer/contractor (but not to run a company). 

After 2 years you can switch to a Skilled Worker visa if you have a UK company willing to sponsor you. This is great news as such in-country switching wasn’t possible in the past! You can also remain in the UK (without leaving) by switching to a Spouse/Partner visa. Very often we see people switching to an Unmarried Partner visa, having met the ‘living together’ requirement while on YMS.

You can qualify for settlement after 5 years on either work or family visa, but not a combination.

What’s next after Student visa?

Options are a Graduate visa, Skilled Worker visa. A Hong Kong BNO visa is available if you are a British National (Overseas) status holder. Also, a Global Talent visa for which you need a professional endorsement, which is in turn very limited as well as innovative business visas which are also based on endorsement. However, if you have a partner in the UK, you can switch to a Spouse/Partner visa and start your path to settlement in that route.

What’s next after Youth Mobility visa?

Thanks to the new Points-Based Immigration System, you can switch to a Skilled Worker visa while in the UK, which wasn’t possible in the past! You don’t have to leave the UK to apply for a Skilled Worker visa from abroad, your employer doesn’t have to advertise your job to settled workers. You don’t have to interrupt your work!

Other options: A Hong Kong BNO visa – if you are a British National (Overseas) status holder. Then there is a Spouse/Partner visa. All these options lead to settlement in the UK after 5 years in a respective route. Under Hong Kong BNO route, you can also combine time spent in some other categories.  

Hong Kong BNO visa

This visa is for those who hold a British Nationals (Overseas) status and reside in Hong Kong or who are already residing in the UK on another visa. It allows BNOs to come and live in the UK; work, study, run a business; then qualify for settlement after 5 years. A BNO status isn’t something you can acquire now, i.e. not after 1 July 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over from the UK to China. If you, however, have or had this status, you can use it to relocate to the UK. This category also allows to bring the immediate family members and even adult children born after 1 July 1997 in some circumstances. 

There are positive aspects in this immigration route, such being able to switch from a visitor status in the UK, or the financial requirement not being as strict as for work or general family visas. There are also aspects that need to be paid attention to, such as how to syncronise your family’s applications or how to count the continuous residency route when qualifying for settlement (and what other visas it can be combined with for the purpose of ‘your’ 5 years). As part of our service, we will guide you on all the rules!  

We also have a post on our Blog: 10 interesting rules of the new Hong Kong BNO visa or you can book online consultation one-to-one with our lawyers here. 

Health and Care Worker visa

This a sub-category within the Skilled Worker visa.  It covers specified jobs, such as nurses, doctors, certain scientists as well as care managers and senior care workers. There are more flexible rules on salaries and  Government fees under this sub-category.  It leads to Settlement in the UK after 5 years. 

The list of eligible jobs is exhaustive (but changes from time to time).  You need sponsorship from a licensed UK employer in the NHS or care sector, such as a company providing adult social care in a nursing home or at old people’s  homes. If your potential employer doesn’t have a Sponsor licence – we can help to apply for it. 

Ancestral 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. 

Global Talent visa

It is for people with proven achievements or a promise in the fields of digital technology, science, medicine, engineering, arts and culture including TV and fashion design, and many other disciplines. You have to obtain an endorsement from a list of the organisations, including Tech Nation for the digital technology professionals. This category leads to Settlement after minimum 3 years, which can also be combined with some other visas you held previously. We have a detailed page here.  

10 years continuous residence in the UK


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!

Family visas

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 can still apply as a family member under the ‘pre-Brexit’ rules, as long as a family relation (or relationship) existed on 31.12.2020. After that you will be able to apply for a Spouse/Partner visa under the UK Immigration Rules on the same terms and partners of British citizens, i.e. with meeting the Financial Requirement £18,600, English language test etc, as on the page above.

If you are in a relationship with a migrant, who is on a route to settlement, such as Tier 2 General or a Skilled Worker, you can apply for a Dependant visa.

All the family options above allow working in the UK. Tier 2/Skilled Worker Dependants can work for any employer while the main migrant is restricted to working for their Sponsor.