International students: how to get a job in the UK through Tier 5

This post was accurate at the time of writing, please check online for the latest information.

We know that many of our international students would like to get a job in the UK when they graduate. However, it can be hard to find an employer willing to sponsor you for a Tier 2 visa.

The good news is, there’s an alternative visa route if you’re prepared to be flexible: the Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange).  You are eligible if you are from outside of the EEA and Switzerland.

3 reasons to consider Tier 5 (GAE)

  • It allows you to work in the UK for 12 months (sometimes up to 2 years). This gives you an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate your value to an employer, and more time to convince them or another employer to offer you a permanent role under Tier 2.
  • Employers don’t have to meet the high salary and skill requirements stipulated under the Tier 2 visa (they must however pay you above the National Minimum Wage) and an overarching body, such as Access Tier 5, manages the paperwork for them. This makes employing you a more realistic prospect for a wider range of employers.  So, whilst you can approach larger employers about Tier 5, perhaps its chief advantage is that it gives smaller organisations (where competition may be less strong) the opportunity to benefit from your skills.
  • You can apply from within the UK if the proposed internship directly relates to your UK degree; otherwise you can apply from outside the UK without this restriction – so if you can’t find an employer by the time your Tier 4 visa expires, you still have a chance to come back.

5 steps to finding employers to hire you

Step 1   Identify your value

Reflect on your unique combination of skills, knowledge and experience. For example, 37% of employers in the 2018 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Report cite Mandarin as useful, but the UK has very few Mandarin speakers.  You will also have insights and connections into your home market that could be attractive to employers doing or planning to do business there.

Step 2   Target

Establish some employer criteria to focus your search. Base this on your key selling points (step 1), and any other factors which are important to you. Here’s an example of four employer criteria for an Indian student taking an MSc in Economics and Finance:

  • Trading or thinking of trading with India (you have knowledge, connections and language skills)
  • Values entrepreneurial experience (you took part in our Start-up Week competition)
  • Within the Finance industry (relates to your degree)
  • Based within 2 hours of Bristol (so it is easier for you to build a relationship)

Step 3 Search

Draw up a list of employers with the potential to meet your criteria.

  1. Identify relevant membership organisations, such as your country or region’s Chamber of Commerce in the UK. Sometimes these organisations publish their membership lists; if not contact them to find out how you can establish which employers in the UK have an interest in your home country.
  2. Use the LinkedIn find alumni tool. For example, putting Malaysia in the search field and selecting “Where they live – UK” yields 466 alumni. You can then see who is working in a field you are interested in. Invite them to connect to tell you more about the industry and their employer and get their advice on possible opportunities.
  3. Search the government register of Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors by city or county.

Step 4 Research

Narrow your prospects down by fully researching each employer. Check their website, annual reports, social media presence, and relevant industry reports to see who might need you most. Use LinkedIn or phone to find out the name of the person who you should write to. Depending on the size of the employer, this might be the managing director, or someone specialising in the area you can offer help in (probably not HR, who may be less close to the business’s needs).

Also check whether the employer is already on the government register of sponsors list. If they are, they are likely to have some familiarity with the sponsorship process, but if they aren’t on the list, don’t be put off, you will simply need to explain the rules and benefits to them.

Step 5 Connect

Send a cover letter (following the format in the example here) and your tailored CV to the named person demonstrating the value you believe you can bring.  Don’t just rely on email, post a hard copy to increase the chances of it being read. Follow up with a phone call after a few days during which you should try to arrange a face-to-face meeting.

It takes time for a relationship to build and the employer will almost certainly want to try you out through some short-term work experience before making an offer through Tier 5. That’s why it’s important to start this process as early as you can.

Find out more

  • Go to the Access Tier 5 website to understand how their process works in detail.
  • Check out other overarching bodies: each organisation works slightly differently so contact them directly to understand how they could help you.
  • This leaflet produced for employers will help you explain key points: AGCAS visa advice for employers 2018
  • If you need more post-study work visa advice, contact the UKCISA Student visa advice line 1-4pm (check their website first as it answers a lot of common questions. )
  • For support with your job search strategy, ask for a 30-minute careers guidance appointment by coming in to see the Careers Service at No. 5 Tyndall Avenue or calling our Welcome desk on 0117 928 8221.