International students (non-EEA): visa requirements for the pre-registration year

This fact sheet contains information about visa requirements for international students who have finished their MPharm or OSPAP and want to begin their pre-registration training.

Visa options

There are a number of visa options available to available to international students who are looking to switch from a tier 4 student visa. These are the:

  • tier 2 general visa
  • tier 5 (government authorised exchange) visa
  • tier 5 (youth mobility scheme) visa
  • UK ancestry visa.

Students who are unsure about which visa to apply for might want to seek advice before submitting a visa application. Information about organisations that can provide advice can be found in the last section of this fact sheet.

 Tier 2 general visa

International students can switch from a tier 4 study visa to a general tier 2 work visa before beginning the pre-registration training year. Applicants will need the following to be eligible for a tier 2 visa:-

  • a certificate of sponsorship reference number – see below
  • an appropriate salary – see below
  • graduation from a UK university with a recognised degree
  • the required level of English – see below.

Applicants must also have a least £945 in savings to prove that they can support themselves. This money must be in their bank account for at least 90 days before applying for the tier 2 visa, unless they are exempt. People who have a fully approved (A-rated) sponsor and have stated on the certificate of sponsorship that they will not claim benefits during their stay will be exempt from the savings requirement.

For further information about A-rated sponsors, see the government website.

Certificate of sponsorship reference number

A certificate of sponsorship reference number holds information related to the job applied for and the applicant’s personal details. It is not an actual certificate or paper document. Employers must be registered with the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) as a sponsor in order to provide a certificate of sponsorship reference number. Applicants will need to add the reference number to their visa application form. Please note, the number can only be used once and is valid for three months from the date it is assigned.

For further information, see the government website.

Salary requirements

For applicants who are applying for a tier 2 visa as a new entrant, the government sets a minimum salary requirement. This is currently set at £20,800. However, the salary offered must also be appropriate to the type of work undertaken and so the government has set a higher level of salary for pre-registration trainees – see below for information on the appropriate salary requirement.

The new entrant category applies to UK graduates who are switching from a tier 4 to a tier 2 visa in order to do their pre-registration year and their salary will need to meet the appropriate salary requirement.

New minimum salary thresholds are to be introduced for experienced workers but these will not apply to graduates applying to switch from a tier 4 to a tier 2 visa as they will be applying as a new entrant. However, the new entrant threshold category can only be applied to a tier 2 visa once.

For further information on the minimum salary requirement, see the government website.

Appropriate salary requirement

Trainees should bear in mind that under the tier 2 system the salary offered must be appropriate to the type of work undertaken, it is not just about meeting the minimum salary requirement. The government sets appropriate salary rates for all job roles and the appropriate rate for pre-registration trainees is currently set at £22.128 for a 37.5 hour week.

Please note, trainees who are paid an hourly rate will only be awarded points up to a maximum of 48 hours a week. Income earned from hours worked above this maximum will be disregarded.

For further information on appropriate salaries, see the UKVI Codes of Practice for Skilled Workers (page 51, sub-section 2213) document.

The required level of English

All Mpharm and MSc OSPAP students who graduate from a UK university will be considered to have met the language requirement.

Criminal record certificate

From April 2017 the government plans to extend the requirement to provide a criminal record certificate to tier 2 visa applicants working in the health care sector. Visa applicants will need to submit a criminal record certificate for each country they have resided in for twelve months or more for the last ten years. For further information including who to contact, see the government website.

Exemption from the Resident Labour Market Test

Employers who are thinking of employing non-EEA applicants for roles that are not on the shortage occupation list are required to advertise the role under the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). However, there are exemptions to this rule and candidates who graduate from a recognised UK university with a recognised degree, for example, an MPharm or MSc OSPAP, can switch from a tier 4 student visa to a tier 2 visa and take up a pre-registration place without the employer having to advertise under the Resident Labour Market Test provided they are in the UK at the time of their application.

This is a once only exemption from the RLMT at the point of switching from a tier 4 visa. OSPAP graduates should note that only the MSc OSPAP qualifies for exemption from RLMT, the OSPAP PGDip does not.

For a full list of exemptions and thresholds, see the UKVI Codes of Practice for Skilled Workers document.

Exemption from the tuberculosis (TB) test

Ordinarily, visa applicants from certain countries will need to have a TB test. Applicants who have lived for at least six months in a country where TB screening is not required by the UK do not have to have a TB test. UK graduates will fall under this rule unless they spend more than six months in a country that does require the UK TB test before applying for a visa. For further information on the TB test, see the government website.

Hospital pre-registration salaries

Hospital pre-registration trainees are paid according to salary Band 5 on the nationally agreed NHS salary scale. The basic rate is currently set at £22, 128 per year. Some salaries can be higher due to an additional high cost area allowance. This is paid in inner and outer London and South East England. This can be worth up to £6405 per year. A hospital placement (with or without the additional allowance) secured by an international student will fall within the appropriate salary requirements as set by UKVI. However, students should note that hospital placements are limited in numbers and competition for posts is fierce.

For further information about NHS salaries, see the NHS website.

Community pre-registration salaries

Given that the NHS grant for community pre-registration pharmacists is currently set at £18,440 per year, international students who opt for a community placement will need to negotiate a training package with their employer that covers the tier 2 salary requirement. Trainees should note that the  appropriate salary is set for a 37.5 hour week and an offer of the appropriate salary in return for longer working hours will not meet the visa requirements.

For further information about the community pre-registration training grant, see the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) website.

Training costs in community placements

Trainees should also note that employers often use a portion of the training grant to pay for off-site training courses, for example, Buttercups and Numark. This reduces the rate of pay for some community pre-registration trainees. Trainees should seek employment advice (please see below) if they are offered a contract that appears to offer a suitable rate of pay for visa purposes, but the employer requests reimbursement for any monies paid above the grant level given by NHS England.

Employment advice

If you have queries about your contract of employment, Pharmacist Support may be able to help by referring you to a specialist Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) adviser. If you would like to be referred, contact us on our general enquiry line:0808 168 2233, or email us on:info@pharmacistsupport.org.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) may also be able to help. The PDA offers free membership to pre-registration trainees; this includes legal defence insurance, professional indemnity insurance and trade union membership. Contact the PDA at: The Old Fire Station 69 Albion Street Birmingham B1 3EA Tel: 0121 694 7000 Email: enquiry@the-pda.org Web: www.the-pda.org

Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) visa

International students can opt to switch to the tier 5 government authorised exchange (GAE) visa. This application can be made by students whilst in the UK. The criteria for switching to this are as follows:-

  • applicants will need an overarching government approved sponsor
  • applicants must be a graduate or about to graduate from a UK university
  • applicants must have a training position that lasts for no more than twelve months (there is provision for twenty-four month training periods however given that pre-registration training is twelve months in duration, a twenty-four month application is not applicable)
  • the training position must be supernumerary  (outside the organisations regular staffing requirements)
  • the training position must be related to the degree that applicants have studied for
  • the training position must be full time and satisfy all of the standard UK employment requirements, for example, it must pay the UK minimum wage and statutory holiday and sickness pay.

Overarching government approved sponsor

There are numerous organisations that fill the role of government approved overarching sponsor. For the full list of approved tier 5 GAE sponsors, see the government website.

At present, Pharmacist Support is aware of only one organisation that currently offers this sponsorship to pre-registration trainees. This organisation is called AIESEC. For further information about this organisation, see the AIESEC website.

Trainees should note that overarching sponsors do not offer placements. They are simply the sponsor, and trainees will be responsible for finding a placement that fits all the criteria for eligibility before applying for sponsorship.

International students who are interested in this route should ask their prospective employer to complete the assessment form in order to confirm eligibility for a tier 5 visa. For further information, students could also see the AIESEC access tier 5 website.

Tier 5 (GAE) visa limitations

International students should note that the tier 5 GAE visa does not offer the same flexibility as that of the tier 2 general visa. The tier 5 GAE visa is for a temporary stay in the UK only. Any employer offering placements via this visa will need to indicate that the role is surplus to their needs and that they do not intend to employ the trainee at the end of the training period.

Tier 5 GAE visa applicants are expected to return to their country of origin once their training is completed. Tier 5 GAE visa holders cannot switch to a tier 2 visa at the end of their placement. Any trainees who wish to continue to work in the UK will have to make an application for a tier 2 visa from their home country. Any tier 2 visa application must fulfil the government criteria for experienced workers.

This visa is therefore best suited to trainees who want to qualify in the UK but then return home at the end of their training.

Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa

Some students may be eligible to switch to the tier 5 (youth mobility scheme) visa.  This scheme is for young people in participating countries who would like to work in the UK. There are specific requirements to be met, visas are issued under a quota system and applicants have to apply from their home country.

British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens and British nationals (overseas) can also apply to this scheme (there is no limit on these visas).

The scheme is available to nationals of the following countries:-

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • Republic of Korea
  • Taiwan
  • New Zealand

Please note, applicants who are citizens of Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan must apply for sponsorship (from their home country) if they want to apply for a visa under the scheme.

Other eligibility criteria are as follows, you:-

  • want to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years
  • are aged between 18 and 30
  • have no children who live with you
  • have no children for whom you are financially responsible
  • are not already in the UK under the scheme or in the former ‘working holidaymaker’ category
  • must have £1,890 in savings.

For further information about the tier 5 (youth mobility scheme), see the government website.

Other options for international students

International students might want to look into the possibility of applying for a UK ancestry visa or opting for a five year MPharm sandwich programme.

UK ancestry visa

People can apply for a UK ancestry visa if they:-

  • are a Commonwealth citizen
  • are applying from outside the UK
  • are able to prove that one of their grandparents was born in the UK
  • are able and planning to work in the UK
  • are aged 17 or over
  • have enough money without help from public funds to support and house themselves and any dependants.

Please note, applicants cannot switch to a UK ancestry visa if they are already in the UK on a different visa. It must be done from their home country.

For further information about the UK ancestry visa, see the government website.

Five year MPharm sandwich programme

Two schools of pharmacy currently offer a five year course that enables students to undertake their pre-registration training as part of the MPharm programme. Greater costs are incurred as tuition fees are paid over five years instead of four and the student is not paid during their pre-registration training. However, it does allow international students to complete all of their study on a tier 4 student visa and on graduation they will only need to complete the GPhC pre-registration assessment successfully. This programme also guarantees all of its students a pre-registration placement.

The universities offering this course are the University of Bradford, the University of Nottingham and the University of East Anglia.

Other useful information on our website

Immigration: choosing an immigration adviser fact sheet 

Pre-registration assessment fact sheet

Pre-registration fact sheet

Pre-registration: finding a placement fact sheet

Other useful organisations

UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)

UKCISA is the national advisory body for international students. They provide information and advice on all aspects of studying and working in the UK. For further information, see the UKCISA website.

British Pharmaceutical Students Association (BPSA)

The BPSA is the official student organisation for pharmacy students and pre-registration trainee pharmacists. For further information, see the BPSA website.