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

This page contains information about visa requirements for international students who have finished their MPharm or OSPAP and want to begin their foundation training.

Visa options

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

  • UK graduate visa
  • Skilled worker visa (formerly known as the tier 2 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 page.

UK graduate visa

In July 2021 the government introduced the UK graduate visa. This visa will allow applicants to work in the UK for up to two years following graduation. Applicants will not need a sponsor and there will be no minimum salary requirement. You can apply for this visa even if you do not have a job lined up. Applicants will need:

  • graduation from a UK university with a recognised degree
  • the required level of English – see below.

OSPAP students should note that the UKVI has clarified its stance on the status of students who undertake the PGDip Pharm. It has now confirmed with some universities that PGDip Pharm students will be able to claim graduate status owing to clause GR 5.2 (f). For further details see the government website under the section listed as Qualification Requirement:

The required level of English

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

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

UK national living wage

Whilst visa applicants should note that there is no minimum salary requirement for the UK graduate visa, the UK does have rules that require all UK employers to pay employees the national living wage as set by the government. Whilst employers can pay more than the national wage, they cannot pay any employee less than the national living wage.

Further information about the national living wage can be found on the government website.

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

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) may also be able to help. The PDA offers free membership to 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: Web:

Skilled Worker Visa

This visa has replaced the Tier 2 (General) work visa. Applicants will need to:-

  • work for a UK employer that’s been approved by the Home Office
  • have a ‘certificate of sponsorship’ from their employer with information about the role they have been offered in the UK
  • do a job that’s on the list of eligible occupations
  • be paid a minimum salary according to job role.

Applicants must have a confirmed job offer before they apply for this visa. Applicants will also need to show the required level of English, however; all UK graduates will be considered to have met the English language requirement.

Further information about the Skilled Worker visa can be found on the government website.

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 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 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 other work visas. 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 £2,530 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 dependents.

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.

Health and Care visa (Tier 2)

The government has recently introduced a Health and Care visa for healthcare professionals. For a time it was possible for trainee pharmacists to apply for this work visa. However, the government has now removed being on the shortage list as one of the eligibility criteria for this visa. It is now only available for qualified professionals and given that trainee pharmacists are not yet qualified, this is no longer a viable option. For further information about the Health and Care visa, see the government website.

Five year MPharm sandwich programme

Several schools of pharmacy currently offer a five year course that enables students to undertake their foundation 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 foundation 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 final assessment exam successfully. This programme also guarantees all of its students a foundation placement.

The universities offering this course are:-

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 trainee pharmacists. For further information, see the BPSA website.

This page was last reviewed in April 2023.

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