Visa tiers and the points based system
There are different types of visa you can use to gain entry to the UK. It is split into five tiers which relate to your circumstances, nationality and reasons for wishing to enter the UK. You can follow the decision tree on the UK Visas and Immigration website to help decide what is required.
The UK's Points-Pased Immigration System
The points-based system is the entry route for people who wish to work or study in the UK and need a visa. It is split into five tiers.
Points are awarded for different attributes such as your qualifications, age, previous earnings, English language skills, employment status and source of funds.
You will need a certain number of points depending on the tier under which you apply. You can perform a self-assessment online to determine how many points you might be awarded.
Each tier relates to a different reason behind your move and your activity in the UK. Choosing the correct tier of visa is the most important step in your visa application.
Entrepreneur Visa (Tier 1)
You must have either £50,000 or £200,000 minimum funds accessible in the UK, depending on the source of funding. Additional points will be gained for your application for various criteria including whether you have created employment in the UK.
Global Talent Visa (Tier 1)
The Global Talent visa is a UK immigration category for talented and promising individuals in specific sectors wishing to work in the UK. It replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa on 20 February 2020.
To be considered for entry under the Global Talent visa, applicants must gain an endorsement from one of six endorsing bodies engaged by the Home Office.
If you are applying for endorsement in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, the social sciences or the humanities or for other academic and research roles, the Home Office will refer your application to the British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society or UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which will make an endorsement decision based on the evidence you provide.
If you are applying for endorsement in non-academic fields of arts and culture and digital technology, your application will be referred to Arts Council England or Tech Nation, which follow separate endorsement criteria.
Researchers applying for a Global Talent visa
There are four routes for eligible academics and researchers to obtain endorsement for a Global Talent visa. The Home Office Guidance sets these out under the heading Science, engineering, humanities and medicine applicants, though a full range of academic and research disciplines are covered.
- Senior appointments – fast-track endorsement for individuals who have accepted a job as a Professor, Associate Professor, Reader, or equivalent position such as Senior Group Leader, at an approved UK higher education institution or research institute, provided certain recruitment requirements are met. This route is administered by the British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society.
- Individual fellowships – fast-track endorsement for individuals who have been awarded an individual fellowship on the list approved by the British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society. The fellowship must be held currently or within the last 12 months.
- Endorsed funders – fast-track endorsement for researchers and specialists whose name or job title is specified in a successful grant application from an endorsed funder approved by UKRI. In order to be eligible, researchers must be hosted or employed by eligible institutions named in Annex 2 of the Immigration Rules.
- Peer review – standard endorsement for individuals who submit an application for full peer review by the British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering or Royal Society.
This visa is for skilled workers and allows you to work in the UK for up to 3 years with the option to extend for a further 3 years.
To apply through Tier 2 you must have an offer of a graduate-level job, or one listed on the UK Visas & Immigration shortage occupation list and a certificate of sponsorship from your UK employer, who should be an approved sponsor.
You can either apply from outside the UK or, if you are completing your undergraduate or post-graduate studies in the UK you can apply to switch to a Tier 2 visa from within the UK. Note that if you’re coming to the end of your studies, you can also apply for a work visa under the Doctorate Extension Scheme.
Students must apply for either a Student visa or a Tier 4 visa for stays longer than 6 months.
This visa is appropriate for students who intend to study for more than 6 months in the UK for example on a higher education programme.
It can cover up to 5 years of undergraduate study (longer for certain subjects) or longer periods for a Masters or PhD degree, but not exceeding a total stay in the UK of 8 years. Students must have visa clearance before travelling to the UK.
If you are nearing the end of your studies on a Tier 4 (General) student visa, you have the option to apply for other visas including:
- A tier 4 extended visa under the Doctorate Extension Scheme if you are coming to the end of a PhD. This can extend your stay by 1 year and you will be able to work
- A tier 2 (General) visa if you have a job offer from a UK employer
- A tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) scheme visa
- A tier 1 (Graduate entrepreneur) visa if you have been selected by your HEI for having developed innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills and wish to stay in the UK to establish a business.
Can I work if I am a student?
This will depend on your immigration status and what is allowed under your Tier visa.
A useful resource is the website for The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), where they provide information and advice on when students and working legally in the UK.
If you wish to do research temporarily in the UK without a job offer you may apply for a Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) visa through the Government Authorised Exchange Scheme.
This visa requires that you are sponsored under an approved scheme Schemes include work experience programmes (up to 12 months) and research and training programmes (up to 24 months).
Schemes especially suited to researchers include ‘Sponsored Researchers’ where higher education institutions can sponsor individuals who meet the scheme requirements. The ‘Sponsored Scientific Researcher Initiative’ specifically for overseas postgraduate researchers working in formal research projects or collaborations and ‘The Tier 5 Interns Scheme’ working with UK industry are example schemes. Other sponsors include Government bodies, companies and independent not-for-profit bodies.
The UK Visas and Immigration website gives full details of how to apply under the scheme, including how to switch into the Government Authorised Exchange Scheme from a student visa.