Your Guide to Graduate Visa Sponsorship for International Students

International students account for almost a fifth of those currently in higher education in the UK. However in 2014, only 5,639 students were granted a tier 2 (sponsored) visa - the most common way firms sponsor students outside of the EEA (European Economic Area). There is a lot of competition for jobs in the UK, so securing employment can prove to be frustrating - and it isn't going to get any easier. New legislation under the Immigration Act has made it more expensive for companies to employ non-EU staff.

That being said, if you're an outstanding candidate with a developed skill set you still have a good chance of securing a role with a firm. At many firms, sponsorship for visas is allocated on a case-by-case basis, with the bigger companies more likely to be able to sponsor.

Read on to find out what you need to know about the process and some top tips for international students to get ahead.

Tier 2 Visa 

The best way to check your eligibility for a visa is by visiting the Government's website. The most common Tier 2 visas allow a registered company (see full list) to employ an international student in the UK for up to five years. The job role must fit the criteria for Tier 2 – a minimum salary of £20,800 and a particular skill set – but almost all graduate schemes will comfortably surpass this criterion. You must secure employment before your Tier 4 student visa expires – this would normally be two to six months after your course finishes. Therefore, it’s important to apply for graduate roles at the start of your final year, so you start the job in the September after you graduate.

Other Visas

The Tier 2 visa is definitely the most common, but there are two more visas which are worth knowing about.

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) – permitting UK graduates a right to remain in the UK to start their own business. The initial period on this visa is 12 months and it needs to be licensed by an endorsing body. 

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) – There are 1,000 visas for international graduates who are ‘recognised’ as a leader or emerging talent in their field. These are endorsed by an established body – e.g. Royal Academy of Engineering.

Internships and work experience

For anyone looking to secure a graduate scheme in the UK, work experience is vitally important. Most firms offer internships for students in the summer before they start their final year, but there are a wide range of opportunities throughout university – find them on Bright Network just here.

Your Tier 4 student visa grants you permission to partake in full time employment during vacations from university without restriction. This gives you an excellent opportunity to secure work experience. However, it's worth noting that a lot of firms use their internships to recruit the best performers for their graduate schemes - so if the firm doesn't tend to offer visa sponsorship for graduates, it's again more difficult to secure these roles.

The top tips below will give you the best chance when it comes to both internship and graduate job applications.

Top application tips for international students

Check with the firm’s HR or graduate recruitment team -Before starting an application, pick up the phone and ask them about visa sponsorship. It might seem quite daunting, but it shows you’re proactive and it will give you a definite answer. You don’t want to waste time on a great application to a company that won't consider you. If it’s a big company they’ll have a graduate recruitment team, and if not then ask for their HR team when you call.

Focus on the big firms - The big firms are more likely to have the budget to sponsor international students. Plus, if they’re a global company they will fully appreciate the benefits of having a diversity internation workforce. 

Get your applications in before others -  Many firms have rolling application deadlines and screen applicants when they come in. Therefore, the earlier you apply the more graduate positions will be left unfilled. Many firms screen applications on a rolling basis, so the earlier you apply the better your chances will be.

Really stand out - This might sound obvious, and it's something every graduate has to demonstrate, but with there being fewer places for international students you do need to go that extra mile to stand out. Spend your time making the application tailored to the firm and the role, as well as highlighting how good you really are.

Attend networking events - Meeting people face to face is a great way to ask all the questions you have and impress graduate recruiters. It gives you something to put in your application which is completely unique to you. Check out the upcoming networking events just here. 

Use being international to your advantage - Being an international student may mean you’re multi-lingual (a skill English students often lack) and have work experience in other cultures. This can set you apart on applications, so make sure you’re really highlighting this.  

Check Bright Network job descriptions - On our website, we always try to include details about a firm’s willingness to sponsor international students.

Following these top tips will give you the best possible chance of getting hired. Many Bright Network members have succeed in securing visa sponsorship and joining leading employers here in the UK.


Ready to have a look at the sort of graduate jobs you might like to apply to? Click here