Tier 2 visa explained

Union Jack tier 2 visa

Interested in staying on in the UK after finishing your degree? Obtaining a Tier 2 (General) visa is the most common way for university students to be able to do so. But this route is only possible for those who have already received a job offer at a company with a license to sponsor migrants through UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). For reference, you can find a complete list of registered sponsors here.

We know applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa can be confusing. So, to help you understand the steps and requirements of applying, we’ve answered some of the most common questions and concerns in this article.

What is the Tier 2 (General) visa?

The Tier 2 (General) visa is a UK work visa issued to skilled workers from outside the UK, European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland and UK Overseas Territories. It’s just one of the types of Tier 2 work visa. Other types are the Intra-Company Transfer visa, Minister of Religion visa and Sportsperson visa. However, the Tier 2 (General) visa is the most common one students switch to after university.

To be eligible to apply, you must have a job offer in the UK. You must also be able to show a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from your employer. Once you’ve received a Tier 2 (General) visa for work at a specific company, your visa is dependent upon staying employed by them. Besides working your paid job, with this visa, you are also eligible to do unpaid voluntary work.

What you need to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa?

  1. Your current passport.
  2. A passport-sized colour photograph.
  3. A bank statement showing you have a deposit of £945, that has been in the account for 90 days
  4. A blank page in your passport for the visa.
  5. Proof you’re making an appropriate salary for your job.
  6. Proof of your proficiency in English (often exempt if coming from a UK university or English-speaking country).
  7. Tuberculosis test results if you’re from a relevant country.
  8. A criminal record certificate if you’re working with vulnerable people, such as children or the homeless.
  9. Proof of your eligibility to travel and your travel history over the past five years.

Do you need to be able to speak English well to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa?

Yes, you must be able to speak fluent English. You can prove this by passing an English language test or by being a national of another English-speaking country, like the United States. Having a university degree from a UK institution is one way of meeting this requirement.

Is it easier to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa when switching from a Tier 4 visa?

Yes, in many ways it is easier to switch to a Tier 2 visa from a Tier 4 study visa, which is given to full-time international students attending university in the UK. This is because your employer will be exempt from certain hiring restrictions, such as the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) and having to pay the Immigration Skills Charge, which is an additional charge the employer has to pay.

Transitioning from Tier 4 to Tier 2 also means the Government will approve your Certificate of Sponsorship much faster in most cases. This is because you are not subject to the national annual limit on migration which puts a cap on the number of migrants who can receive sponsorship certificates each month.

Tier 4 visa holders can apply to switch once they have successfully completed their degree course or completed 12 months of a PhD. However, it’s important to note that if you switch to another visa, for example a Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa, in between your Tier 4 study visa and a Tier 2 (General) visa, then you are disqualified from receiving the benefits of an immediate switch.

If you’ve received your final university results and received your CoS, you can start in your permanent full-time role while you wait for your visa.

How much does it cost to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa?

The application cost of a Tier 2 visa depends on the type of visa you’re getting and where you’re applying from. For a visa that lasts up to three years, you will be paying £610 to apply from outside the UK or £704 if you are extending or switching it within the UK. However, this differs if you’re a citizen of Turkey or Macedonia, applying as a dependent or if your job is on the shortage occupation list. 

To see how much it would cost for a priority decision time or a premium on the day appointment check out the government website.

If you’re applying for a Tier 2 visa that lasts more than three years, your visa will cost £1,220 if applying from outside the UK and £1,408 if you are applying to extend or switch an existing visa from within the UK. Again, this is different for citizens of Turkey and Macedonia, dependents and those applying for shortage occupations.

If applying to extend or switch your visa from within the UK, you can pay an extra £477 for the priority service or an extra £610 for a premium on the day appointment.

How long does it take to get a Tier 2 (General) visa?

If applying from outside the UK, visa processing times range depending on your country of residence. Check out the Government website to see how long you’ll typically need to wait for a decision on your application.

If switching within the UK from a Tier 4 study visa to a Tier 2 visa or extending your Tier 2 visa, it will take around 8-10 weeks to receive a decision. However, if you register for the priority service, you should receive a decision within 10 days. And by paying more for a premium appointment, you typically should receive a visa appointment and application decision on the same day.

How much money do you need in a bank account when applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa?

When applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa, you must show that you’ve had at least £945 in a bank account for 90 days. If you can’t pay for this yourself but your sponsoring company is willing to provide it for you, then you’ll still meet the requirement. To do this, your sponsoring company must be “A-rated” and they must clarify that they’ll provide this money in your CoS.

How much do you need to earn to qualify for a Tier 2 (General) visa?

If your Tier 2 (General) visa is granted for three years and you come under the category of “new entrant” your minimum required salary will be £20,800 per year. Tier 4 visa students who have finished their degree and are switching to a Tier 2 visa fall under this classification.

If your position comes under a more experienced salary rate, you’ll usually need to be making at least 30,000 per year. For more information consult the Government’s Immigration Rules Appendix J.

Can you apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa from within the UK?

Yes, you can apply from within the UK if you are extending your existing Tier 2 (General) visa or if you are switching to this visa from certain other visas. To do this, you must already be in the UK under a Tier 1 visa, another type of Tier 2 visa or a Tier 4 visa.

How long does the Tier 2 (General) visa last?

The Tier 2 (General) visa is granted for between three to five years and 14 days, or the time given on a Certificate of Sponsorship plus one extra month for leeway. After five years of being in the UK under Tier 2, you will be eligible to apply for permanent residency in the UK as long as other conditions are met. To do this, you’ll need to be making a salary of £35,800 if applying on or after 6 April 2019, and £36,200 if applying on or after 6 April 2020.

If you have been in the UK for less than five years, you may be able to extend your Tier 2 visa to stay in the UK. However, you must apply before your current visa expires.

Exemptions from the Resident Labour Market Test

Employers are exempt from carrying out the Resident Labour Market Test if an employee is:

  1. Transitioning from a Tier 4 visa directly to a Tier 2 (General) visa.
  2. Renewing their Tier 2 (General) visa.
  3. Filling a job on the shortage occupation list.
  4. Is moving to the UK on a Tier 2 intra-company transfer visa.
  5. On a salary that is £159,600 per year or above.
  6. Filling a research position where the migrant is explicitly named on research funding and won’t displace an EU researcher who would otherwise be recruited.

Not the visa you’re looking for information on? Check out our video for guidance on obtaining a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurship visa.