Gaining sponsorship to work in the UK

Gaining sponsorship to work in the UK

Can DigitalGrads help International Students without the automatic right-to-work in the UK?

Finding work for international students who do not have right-to-work in the UK or EEA is almost impossible at graduate level. 

The UK government require that employers carry out a labour test, which means they must advertise their role twice and be unable to find a suitable employee with the necessary skills to fulfil the role before they may consider sponsoring an employee.

A UK employer can only apply to sponsor a candidate if they can prove they cannot, by any means, find a candidate with automatic right to work in areas of work where the UK has a shortage of qualified candidates. 

Not only that, employers must have a license to sponsor employees and often this means completing a lot of paperwork. So employers who are actively recruiting hard to find skills may well register as a sponsor, but many won’t have.

The cold, hard truth is that most graduate jobs are easy to fill, and do not require skills that are hard to find from a local labour market.

How to get help

We recommend you talk to your university careers department about obtaining the right to work in the UK if you are unsure or click here for right to work checks. Their services are usually open to you for up to 3 years after you graduate.

So with great sadness, at this time, we cannot help you gain sponsorship with a company as it is not a service we provide, and it is the UK government, not us, who make the rules.

We are a start-up and do all that we can to provide support to all graduates, however, there are currently laws in place within the UK that make helping you gain sponsorship very challenging for employers and us at DigitalGrads.

Below, you will find some information about the different kinds of Visa’s and the eligibility criteria. 

Types of work visa’s

Your eligibility for different types of visa will depend on which type of visa you apply for. The most likely categories are Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 5 work visas.

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa

This is open to graduates who have been endorsed by either the Department for International Trade (DIT) under the Sirius programme or an authorised UK higher education institution (HEI), as having a ‘genuine and credible business idea'.

To get an endorsement from an HEI, you must hold a UK-recognised undergraduate degree, masters or PhD award. The endorsement does not have to be from the university that you graduated from, but you will need your original degree certificate.

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa

The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa is open to applicants with exceptional talent or promise in science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts.

Applying for the visa is a two-stage process: you need endorsement as a leader or emerging leader in your discipline from the Home Office before you apply for the visa itself.

The Home Office provides endorsements based on recommendations from the relevant designated competent body, which will be one of the following:

  • Arts Council England – arts and culture

  • The British Academy – humanities and social science

  • The Royal Society – natural science and medical science

  • The Royal Academy of Engineering – engineering

  • Tech City UK – digital technology

  • The visa lasts for five years (with an additional four months for applications made outside the UK) and can be extended for another five.

Tier 2 visa

With a Tier 2 visa, you are eligible to work in the UK for five years. Your employer must be a registered sponsor (the Home Office has a register of officially licensed sponsors).

The following conditions must be met:

  • skilled work – the role must meet a required skill level.

  • minimum salary of £30,000 (or the appropriate rate). Some professions are exempt from the £30,000 threshold.

  • some roles are subject to a resident labour market test.

  • you must meet English language requirements. If you graduated from a UK university you're likely to be exempt.

New entrants

If you are considered a ‘new entrant' when applying for a Tier 2 visa, the minimum salary threshold is £20,800. To qualify as a new entrant, you'll need to be meet one of the following criteria:

  • under 26 years old

  • recruited through the university milkround process by a Tier 2 sponsor

  • have a post-study exemption from the resident labour market test.

  • Changing from a Tier 4 (student) visa to a Tier 2 visa

  • To switch visa, you must have completed your course with a tier 4 sponsor institution graduating with either a UK bachelors degree, a masters, a PGCE or PGDE. Alternatively, you need to have completed at least 12 months of your PhD.

After changing visa, your Tier 2 visa will be eligible for up to five years.

You can find out more about switching to a Tier 2 visa from GOV.UK.

Enter your text here...

Doctorate extension scheme

This provides an extension which allows PhD students close to completing their research to extend their Tier 4 visa for another 12 months. This could be to gain more experience in their specialist field, to find skilled employment or set up as an entrepreneur.

Tier 5 Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange

This is available for applicants from approved schemes coming to the UK for work experience, research, training or an overseas government language programme.

An overarching organisation is responsible for the scheme and is supported by a government department. The organiser managing the exchange scheme issues the certificate of sponsorship needed for a visa.

The visa is valid for 12 months for work experience, or 24 months for research, training, or an overseas government language programme.

​Extending a student visa

It is possible to extend your student visa, provided that your circumstances haven't changed and that you still meet the eligibility criteria. It is very important to apply before your current visa expires so that you aren't classed as having overstayed by the Home Office.


GOV.UK – visas and immigration has details on the requirements for each type of visa.

About post author

I am currently the Community Manager at DigitalGrads. My main job is to nurture our graduate community and support our DigitalGrads through our training programme. I love all things digital and have a passion for marketing.
Posted in Candidate FAQs